The Center for Earth Ethics has been participating in the Climate Crisis Policy review of climate bills and legislation for 2021. This week, CCP discussed the Environmental Justice for All Act. If you missed the CCP call and would like to learn more about this legislation, you can join the
Environmental Justice for All Act – Improving Lives of Marginalized Communities
Facebook Live Online Tour – Next Stop: Tuesday, Sept. 15 from Los Angeles 1:00 – 2:30 pm ET
Sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijlav (D-AZ) House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rep. Raul Grijalva is leading forums on Facebook Live to promote the “Environmental Justice for All Act,” which he and Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced. See fact sheet
Grijalva and Rep. McEachin will discuss the impacts that decades of neglect have had on Cancer Alley and how the Environmental Justice for All Act would give community members long-sought legal powers to protect themselves from polluter abuses. The bill was written after a collaborative process with impacted communities lasting more than a year, and has been praised as a new model for preparing legislation.
Event details and links will be made available on Rep. Grijalva’s website HERE.
Join us for the upcoming Climate Crisis Policy review sessions:
On September 10th, CEE Director Karenna Gore, joined speakers Mary Evelyn Tucker and Meijun Fan along with moderator, Andrew Schwartz to begin a conversation on Ecological Civilization inspired from China’s adoption of this directive into their constitution. Please enjoy this first webinar in a 4-part series beginning with Values & Worldviews: Ecological Civilization as Mutual Flourishing.
Webinar Series: Earth Charter and Ecological Civilization
A new kind of collaboration, toward a new kind of civilization, is needed if we are to shift humanity away from the current civilization that is indifferent to the needs of the most vulnerable and that predominantly has lifestyles and production patterns that destroys the life support systems that sustain life on Earth.
Two decades ago, after years of international collaboration and with input from visionaries around the world, a document known as the Earth Charter was drafted as a vision of hope and a call to action. The 16 principles of the Earth Charter provide a framework for the long-term well-being of people and the planet.
In 2012, China adopted Ecological Civilization in its National Constitution and mandated its incorporation into “all aspects of economic, political, cultural, and social progress.” This call for civilizational change raises awareness of the need for an alternative paradigm. But, what is “ecological civilization” and how can it be achieved?
Now, as we enter the third decade of the new millennium, there is urgency in generating an intercultural and intersectoral dialogue about the meaning, principles, metrics, vision, and values that ought to drive humanity towards ecological civilization.
Toward this end, a group of global partners are coming together to organize a series of webinars to exchange views, deepen discourse, and hopeful stimulate further collaboration. This series of four webinars, to take place between September and December, is being organized as a collaborative effort between the Earth Charter International, University for Peace, Pace Center for Green Sci-Teck and Development, the Institute of Ecological Civilization, China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF), and the Center for Process Studies.
The following questions will be addressed:
What is an “Ecological Civilization?”
What values and worldviews are needed to ground a paradigm shift towards that direction?
Can the Earth Charter principles provide a framework for building an ecological civilization?
How to cultivate the consciousness needed, and how to turn this new consciousness into action?
What are the driving forces of the current civilization and what could be the drivers of “Ecological Civilization”?
What is the role of education, policies, and international collaboration to turn Ecological Civilization a reality?
As the climate crisis intensifies, scientists and experts agree that systemic change is critical. But while individual efforts alone aren’t enough to reverse global heating, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. We asked several climate scientists and advocates about individual actions that can make a difference.
What’s one thing you do in your day-to-day life to combat the climate crisis?
Katharine Hayhoe, atmospheric scientist:I have transitioned over 80% of the talks I give to virtual online events (100% these days!), and when I do travel, I bundle my requests and commitments such that I am doing anywhere from 4-5 to as many as 15-25 events in each location that I fly to, in order to minimize the carbon footprint of each individual event.
Adrienne Hollis, climate justice and health scientist: I am being mindful about the water shortage. I like to plant around my deck, and I use my rain barrel to water my plants. It’s a small thing, and it’s a big thing. I get up at about 6 to water my plants, and I grow my herbs and peppers. It makes me feel like I am making a difference. And feeling like you’re making a difference is important. It’s finding your way of contributing. It makes you feel like you’re a part of the fight.
Sonia Aggarwal, energy policy expert: I recently found a great deal on a gently used electric car, and I have been loving it for those essential trips when I can’t walk, bike or use public transit. One thing I didn’t expect: this electric car is the most fun to drive! It’s peppy and quiet and it just feels so good to breeze right past the gas station without a second thought.
Michael Mann, climatologist: I speak out about the climate crisis, and the importance of taking action, using every medium, vehicle, forum or platform that is available to me.
What can I do in my personal life to address the climate crisis?
Catherine Flowers, environmental justice leader: Use less plastic or no plastic, recycle, eat less meat, reduce our own carbon footprint, build better – there are lots of things we can do. Don’t buy unsustainable products, choose something else. That’s the quickest way to get people to change is to make another choice, then of course the market will adjust.
Aggarwal: Home energy use is responsible for 20% of US greenhouse gas emissions, between the electricity we use and the fuels we burn on site. There are some cool new technologies out there that can support the same or better service at home, while reducing energy use and emissions. Those include super-efficient heat pumps and new induction stoves that are safer than gas and offer the same or better temperature control. Many utilities and states offer rebates for appliances like these.
Klaus Jacob, geophysicist: It’s fine to put solar panels on our roofs and take only a three-minute shower instead of a 10-minute shower. But what is really needed is that the individuals participate and communicate in neighborhood actions where you have the best chance to make a difference.
I live in a small village on the Hudson river. As sea level rises, so does the Hudson. Over the last two decades, I have made sure that our village is one of the most aware that it is losing a good portion of its housing before the year 2050. We already have flooding on our streets.
The Season of Creation is a time to renew our relationship with our Creator and all creation through celebration, conversion, and commitment together. During the Season of Creation, we join our sisters and brothers in the ecumenical family in prayer and action for our common home.
Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I proclaimed 1 September as a day of prayer for creation for the Orthodox in 1989. In fact, the Orthodox church year starts on that day with a commemoration of how God created the world.
The World Council of Churches was instrumental in making the special time a season, extending the celebration from 1 September until 4 October.
Following the leadership of Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I and the WCC, Christians worldwide have embraced the season as part of their annual calendar. Pope Francis made the Roman Catholic Church’s warm welcoming of the season official in 2015.
In recent years, statements from religious leaders around the world have also encouraged the faithful to take time to care for creation during the month-long celebration.
The season starts 1 September, the Day of Prayer for Creation, and ends 4 October, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology beloved by many Christian denominations.
Throughout the month-long celebration, the world’s 2.2 billion Christians come together to care for our common home.
Each year, the ecumenical steering committee suggests a theme to unify Christian communities in their celebration of the season.
For the 2020 Season of Creation, the suggested theme is “Jubilee for the Earth: New Rhythms, New Hope.”
This year, amid crises that have shaken our world, we’re awakened to the urgent need to heal our relationships with creation and each other.
During the season this year, we enter a time of restoration and hope, a jubilee for our Earth, that requires radically new ways of living with creation.
Christians around the world will use this period to renew their relationship with our Creator and all creation through celebration, conversion, and commitment.
This year’s Season of Creation is a time to consider the integral relationship between rest for the Earth and ecological, economic, social, and political ways of living.
This particular year, the need for just and sustainable systems has been revealed by the far-reaching effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. We yearn for the moral imagination that accompanies the Jubilee.
As followers of Christ from around the globe, we share a common role as caretakers of God’s creation. We rejoice in this opportunity to care for our common home and the sisters and brothers who share it.
More information, including a dozen ideas for ways to celebrate the season, is here.
In Climate Reality’s Putting Justice and Human Rights Firstin the US breakout session, you can hear directly from climate and environmental justice leaders to better understand the history of injustice in the United States and the way forward in the fight for climate and social justice.
Tune in to hear from Climate Reality board member Catherine Coleman Flowers, Dr. Robert D. Bullard, Angelo Logan, and Julian Brave NoiseCat!
Compiled and shared by Rafael Jesús González, Earth Stanzas contributing poet and first Poet Laureate of Berkeley, CA.
When women’s suffrage was gained in the U. S. in 1920, my mother Carmen González Prieto was newly come to the U.S., not yet thirteen. She did not become a citizen of the United States until 1957 while I was serving with the Marine Corps in Kaneohe Bay, the territory of Hawai’i. Shorty after she died at the age of 86, while I was visiting my brothers in El Paso, I accompanied them to vote; everyone at the voting place asked where Mrs. Carmen González was; they had never known her to miss voting since she became a U. S. citizen. (She always voted Democrat.)
— Rafael Jesús González
19th Amendment to the US Constitution — Women Suffrageby Deborah Tutnauer (2010)
This is the story of our Mothers and Grandmothers
who lived only 90 years ago.
Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.
And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of ‘obstructing sidewalk traffic.’
They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.
They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.
Thus unfolded the ‘Night of Terror’ on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women’s only water came from an open pail. Their food–all all of it colorless slop–was infested with worms.
When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.
So, refresh my memory.. Some women won’t vote this year because – why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn’t matter? It’s raining?
Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO’s new movie ‘Iron Jawed Angels.’ It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.
All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient.
My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women’s history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was–with herself. ‘One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,’ she said. ‘What would those women think of the way I use, or don’t use, my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.’ The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her ‘all over again.’
HBO released the movie on video and DVD . I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn’t our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.
It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn’t make her crazy.
The doctor admonished the men: ‘Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.’
Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know. We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote democratic, republican or independent party – remember to vote.
(Helena Hill Weed, Norwalk , Conn. Serving 3 day sentence in D.C. prison for carrying banner, ‘Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.’)
History is being made.
Deborah Tutnauer (2010)
The Declaration of Sentiments
Seneca Falls, New York, 1848(Source: U.S. Dept. of State)
The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions was drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton for the women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. Based on the American Declaration of Independence, the Sentiments demanded equality with men before the law, in education and employment. Here, too, was the first pronouncement demanding that women be given the right to vote.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.
He has compelled her to submit to law in the formation of which she had no voice.
He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men, both natives and foreigners.
Having deprived her of this first right as a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.
He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.
He has made her morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master-the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty and to administer chastisement.
He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes and, in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of the women-the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man and giving all power into his hands.
After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.
He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.
He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.
He allows her in church, as well as state, but a subordinate position, claiming apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church.
He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.
He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.
He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.
Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.
In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the state and national legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of conventions embracing every part of the country.
Whereas, the great precept of nature is conceded to be that “man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness.” Blackstone in his Commentaries remarks that this law of nature, being coeval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this, and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their validity, and all their authority, mediately and immediately, from this original; therefore,
Resolved, That such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature and of no validity, for this is superior in obligation to any other.
Resolved, that all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature and therefore of no force or authority.
Resolved, that woman is man’s equal, was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.
Resolved, that the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want.
Resolved, that inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is preeminently his duty to encourage her to speak and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.
Resolved, that the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior that is required of woman in the social state also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.
Resolved, that the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert, or in feats of the circus.
Resolved, that woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.
Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.
Resolved, that the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.
Resolved, that the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.
Resolved, therefore, that, being invested by the Creator with the same capabilities and same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righteous cause by every righteous means; and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self-evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking, by any instrumentalities proper to be used, and in any assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self-evident truth growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it, whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as a self-evident falsehood, and at war with mankind.
Said Catherine Coleman Flowers when asked why she was passionate about working for rural communities as an environmental justice advocate.
Growing up in the “Black Belt” region of Alabama, which is known for its rich dark soil, Flowers fell in love with the environment that enveloped her.
“I just loved nature and going for walks in areas where most people wouldn’t walk and picking plums and eating them off the plum trees,” she remembered.
But the term “Black Belt” also points to the history of slavery in Alabama. So, not only was Flowers surrounded by nature growing up, but she also grew up in a place steeped in southern history.
“Bloody Lowndes” Beginnings
Flowers was born in Birmingham and raised in Lowndes County, Alabama of the rural southern United States. Lowndes County was commonly referred to as “Bloody Lowndes” due to its history of racism and violence. The county also connected Selma and Montgomery—two cities instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement. But Lowndes County was especially known for importing and distributing enslaved people in the state of Alabama in the 1800s.
“The founders of Lowndes County actually came from South Carolina, and they brought their slaves with them and a lot of slaves were sold into the area. And my family, my father’s family, were descendants of those slaves that were in Lowndes County,” said Flowers.
The county itself was named after the enslaver, plantation owner, and U.S. congressman William Lowndes of the deep south.
Flowers grew up with this backdrop of racism and slavery from Lowndes County’s past, but also within an atmosphere of activism and community as a child of the Civil Rights era.
Some may say Flowers was born to be an activist. “I had a lot of influence from my parents who were activists, as well as those people who were around or would come in contact with my family. And they helped me to develop a sense of community, and a sense of responsibility of being able to provide the best for that community,” she said.
While she may not have realized it at the time, her parents and those they interacted with played instrumental roles in the Civil Rights Movement. From seeing the work that her parents did, activism was ingrained in her at a young age.
“My parents were kind of like the jailhouse lawyers of the community, everybody went to them to ask for advice. They helped a lot of people; they did a lot of organizing. These are things that were just second nature. It wasn’t anything special to me because that was what I saw at the time,” she said.
The Racial Violence That Led to Flower’s Activism
In her teens, Flowers remembered a transformational experience which played an integral part in her becoming an activist.
After her little brother was born at John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital, the same hospital which held the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis study, doctors purposefully sterilized her mother. Flowers noted this was something that not only happened to her mother, but other minority women at the hospital. Her mother went on to spend much of her life protecting other women from what had happened to her.
When the British Broadcasting Company, BBC, had come to interview her parents about their experience, Flowers learned of her own high school principal potentially being involved in the killing of a nine-year-old Black girl.
“There was a reporter who also anchored the NBC affiliate in Montgomery, he anchored the evening news, Black reporter, and he talked about my principal, and he said that my principal allegedly had been involved in the death of a young Black girl, nine years old,” said Flowers, “She was found with pajama bottoms wrapped around her neck and her body was found in a ditch. And [the news anchor] said that the principal allegedly was providing young Black girls to white men in Montgomery. And that struck me,” she explained.
At the age of 16, she became a Robert Kennedy Fellow and worked to get rid of both her principal and the superintendent of the schools successfully, helping to protect the futures of Black children in Lowndes County. As a Fellow, she continued to investigate into what should and should not be happening in schools in terms of children’s safety, such as what had happened in her own school district.
Becoming an Advocate for Her Community on Climate Change and Raw Sewage
In her adulthood, Flowers became a teacher and often used the Civil Rights Movement to inspire the younger generations she was teaching. From her own experience as a youth activist, Flowers believes young people have more power than they realize.
As a teacher, Flowers started realizing something was wrong. She felt the heat in cities like Washington, D.C. where she worked due to the heat island effect and started seeing animals from the south move to the north. She didn’t know what was happening until she watched “An Inconvenient Truth,” a documentary which discussed the horrors of climate change.
“When I saw the “Inconvenient Truth”, I was able to give it a name, and that was climate change,” she said, referring to the abnormal environmental problems she was witnessing.
Moving back to Alabama in 2000 to work on economic development in Lowndes County, Flowers began seeing wastewater issues in her own hometown. She would see pools of waste in people’s yards in the same places where kids would play. What was worse was that climate change was exacerbating these issues. But, the infrastructure to solve these problems for rural communities was almost nonexistent and proper wastewater management systems were blocked by an expensive paywall.
Flowers found that families were facing serious health problems as a result of the exposed waste. But she realized that doctors couldn’t provide a lot of solutions.
“Were there diseases that were manifesting in the U.S.? Because of climate change? I was alarmed because of the intersection of poverty, that American doctors were not trained to look for [these diseases] because they didn’t expect them to be here,” she wondered.
After partnering with the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Flowers and scientists worked together to find what was causing the mysterious health problems of Lowndes County residents.
Their study found that 34 percent of residents tested positive for hookworm, known as a disease of poverty, as a result of their exposure to raw sewage. The parasite is known to live in warm and moist climates and is especially common in places with poor sanitation.
Flowers discussed how many Americans do not realize the extent of poverty in the U.S. and how that results in poor sanitation and wastewater management. But, she struggled to show the true extent of the issue, which was rooted in systemic issues predominately impacting rural and impoverished communities.
“The biggest barrier, and keep in mind I’ve been doing this for at least 18 years, was helping people to understand and acknowledge that there was a wastewater problem in this country. That people do not have access to wastewater infrastructure. And it was not due to a personal failing. It was due to structures that were in place that prevented [access],” she explained.
Not only was Flowers angered, but she realized she had to do something about it. She asked herself, “If we can treat wastewater in outer space to drinking water quality, why can’t we do that here?”
Becoming a Leader for Rural Communities
Flowers soon founded the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, later reforming it into the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ). Addressing the intersections between environmental issues and poverty, CREEJ strives to create solutions that factor in the climate to solve wastewater management and infrastructure issues that are replicable elsewhere.
Flowers emphasizes that this problem is everywhere, “Everybody thinks it’s just Lowndes County. In the state of Alabama, it’s in all 67 counties. But, in just about every place in the United States, there is some problem, some form of wastewater issue,” she said.
Even more so, she wanted to become a voice for her fellow rural Americans.
“The other problem that I had initially with this work is that people don’t understand rural communities and I still run into that where people just make certain assumptions,” she said, going on to explain that people don’t understand the nuances and differences between rural and urban communities.
Flowers often sees legislation lacking a rural perspective, despite one in five Americans living in rural areas, states the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I think oftentimes when policies are written to deal with infrastructure, even to deal with climate change, it mostly is from an urban perspective. It leaves out the lack of inclusive language to address rural communities,” she continued.
Becoming an Author and Inspiring Future Generations
From her life and her work as an environmental justice advocate, Flowers believed it was time for all to hear her own personal journey and encourage others to take action to build a better, greener, and more equitable future for all. So, she started writing a book last year on her experience. Set to come out this November, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret discusses how Flowers got to where she is today and why she chose to deal with the problems others chose to avoid, such as wastewater issues and climate change.
“I think part of the lesson I’ve learned is we can’t let people ignore it. If they ignore it, there will never be a fix,” she said.
Flowers wants her book to encourage others, especially youth, to take action.
“I want to inspire young people to carry on this fight without them having to start from square one. And the book documents my journey. By sharing it like that, it gives them an opportunity to see if they want to do this type of work, where they fit in, and how they can expand and to move it to the next level,” she explained
Through her book, Flowers hopes to become a source of inspiration for others just like many individuals had been one for her.
Hope for the Future
Recently, Flowers was one of only eight climate leaders to be selected to serve on Biden’s Climate Task Force. Being a country girl from “Bloody Lowndes” Alabama and now advising a United States presidential hopeful, Flowers has found that the support of those who are closest to her has helped her to achieve such success.
“I stand on a lot of shoulders. And I’d probably take up this entire interview just naming people who have been instrumental in influencing me from my childhood even through now,” she told me.
She emphasized her parents’ role in her activism. “I think what I developed from my parents was a sense of what is morally right and a sense of giving a voice to people that do not have the access, or the privilege themselves,” she said, hoping to use her platform to do just that.
While Flowers and those in her life and community have faced continual challenges, she remains optimistic.
“I am hopeful for the future because young people are the future… The fight, the vision, I see we are going to get closer to where we need to be.”
In Alabama, doctors and nurses are seeing record numbers of hospitalizations associated with COVID-19. The state has reported more than 1,300 deaths since the pandemic began. But certain regions and populations within the state are faring far worse than others — and huge health disparities among Black residents are causing even more dire results. Stephanie Sy reports on a tragic legacy.
When people think about climate change and environmentalism, the image that comes to mind is a polar bear on a melting block of ice. However, that image neglects to include people, especially living in communities that are suffering from lack of climate and environmental justice. These areas, often inhabited by people of color, poor people or rural residents are located across the United States. In many of these communities, basic services such was access to water and wastewater sanitation are also affected by climate change.
In Florida, sea-level rise is very apparent. As a result, the groundwater is rising too. This makes it hard to treat wastewater with septic tanks. The failing septic tanks are damaging the environment and the health of residents relying on that technology for wastewater treatment. In Miami-Dade County, septic tanks contaminate the aquifer that provides drinking water. Over a year ago, a Miami Herald article trumpeted that the city of Miami has a $3 Billion septic tank problem. This failing or nonexistent wastewater infrastructure we’re seeing largely impacts communities of color where sewage ends up inside their homes or in their yards. This should concern everyone since it has been established that COVID-19 is shed in feces and can exist in wastewater.
“Climate injustice is exposing marginalized communities to imminent destruction caused by our fossil fuel addiction, which exacerbates climate vulnerabilities and expands climate inequality.”
Sea-level rise has also led to sunny day flooding in the Sunshine State. As a result, escaping sea-level rise has led those that can afford it to move to higher ground. The highest ground in the Miami area is called Little Haiti. Historically it has been a neighborhood of low-income immigrants of color, and now, longtime residents are being forced out of their homes. This is called “climate gentrification” and it is also occurring in nearby Liberty City and Overtown, both of which were largely occupied by black people. In fact, Overtown was once called “Color Town” because of its large black population. Another pattern of climate injustice is exposing marginalized communities to imminent destruction caused by our fossil fuel addiction, which exacerbates climate vulnerabilities and expands climate inequality. Without an intentional effort to promote climate equity and inclusion, the displaced will end up in the flood-prone areas with failing septic systems.
“The people least responsible for climate change are the most impacted.”
In Alaska, water and sewer lines are being exposed and twisted because of thawing permafrost. Many indigenous communities have never received water or wastewater infrastructure. Places like the village of Newtok don’t even have running water. Without any toilets, people rely on five-gallon buckets known as “honey buckets” to dispense their waste. Then dispose of it in a pit or hole. The town is currently being relocated because of housing being lost to melting caused by increasing temperatures. In the Navajo Nation, many homes are also without running water or wastewater infrastructure. Infections from COVID-19 are remarkably high and are underscored by limited water in homes and the inability to wash hands.. The theme is similar. The people least responsible for climate change are the most impacted.
Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret by Catherine Flowers, via hardback and Kindle on November 17th, 2020.
Lowndes County, Alabama provides another clear example of how the lack of access to sanitation is where environmental justice intersects with climate change. Known as “Bloody Lowndes” because of its history of racial terror, it is located between Selma and Montgomery. Most of the historic Selma to Montgomery voting rights march trail passes through this county. In the 1960s, sharecroppers were denied the right to vote and evicted from the plantations where they lived for attempting to exercise their right to vote. Today, Lowndes County, still a Black-majority county has the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rate in the state of Alabama. This should not come as a surprise since the area came to international prominence for its poverty and people living with raw sewage in their yards or flowing back into their homes because of failing septic systems. In 2017, a peer-reviewed study was published revealing that several tropical parasites including hookworm were found in fecal samples of county residents. Some of the tropical parasites were not expected to be found in the United States. Yet with climate change bringing warmer temperatures, the health consequences will worsen, and the old infrastructure designs are not and won’t be sufficient. Wastewater infrastructure in particular is continuously ignored despite being just as essential as water infrastructure. Those on the frontlines of these infrastructure injustices are suffering now more than ever because of climate change. They are the canary in the coal mine.
“A truly inclusive green future acknowledges the needs and voices of all living at the frontlines of climate change — rural communities, the poor, and people of color as well as polar bears and melting ice caps.”
Therefore, we need an inclusive view of environmentalism and an equitable vision for green infrastructure and jobs. A view that includes converting to a green economy using clean energy and renewables; building sustainable housing with a zero-carbon footprint; and switching from fossil fuels. It also includes creating affordable wastewater treatment technologies that reclaim nutrients and water for reuse. Most importantly, it requires supporting a truly inclusive green future that acknowledges the needs and voices of all living at the frontlines of climate change – rural communities, the poor, and people of color as well as polar bears and melting ice caps.
Video: Please enjoy the Laudato Si at 5 webinar program hosted by Fordham Law, June 18, 2020 |12:00-1:00 p.m.
Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home reaches its fifth anniversary, amid a pandemic which has the power to transform ways of working, commuting, and connecting. It also reveals the deep inequities in our society, including environmental injustice that harms human health. In this dialogue, we will explore the ecological crisis in times of COVID-19 from a moral, economic, and legal perspective.
Speakers: Kit Kennedy, Director, Energy & Transportation Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council Karenna Gore, Director, Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary John Mundell, President/Senior Environmental Consultant at Mundell & Associates, Inc. Simone Borg, Law Professor and Head of the Department of Environmental Law and Resources Law at the University of Malta School of Law.
Moderators: Rabbi Burt Visotzky, Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and Director, Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue, Jewish Theological Seminary Endy Moraes, Director of Fordham’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work.