Category: Climate Change

Gore Speaks about Faith Communities, Values, and Development at G20 Interfaith Forum

On Wednesday, July 14, Karenna Gore, executive director of the Center for Earth Ethics, was a panelist at a webinar, “Interfaith Initiatives to Achieve the Agenda 2030 Environmental Goals,” sponsored by the G20 Interfaith Forum. The other panelists were Arthur Dahl, president of the International Environment Forum, and Astrid Shomaker, director for global sustainable development in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Environment. Pasquale Annicchino of the Bruno Kessler Foundation moderated the discussion.

Listen to the panel discussion.

“Everyone is experiencing climate change,” Gore said. “It is important to acknowledge inequities and those who are suffering and dying right now.”

She emphasized two global megatrends in play: depletion, including the deforestation of the Amazon, and pollution, most importantly the rise in greenhouse gas emissions. “This is about more than data and science,” she said. “It’s about belief systems and values.” Even the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Gore noted, have sometimes been used “to justify the continuation and even expansion of fossil fuels.”

“Money is often confused with virtue,” Gore said. But she sees faith communities playing three main roles in reframing the conversation. They can be prophetic, in the sense of “telling the truth” about climate and sustainability during a worldwide “crisis of fact and knowledge.” They can be pastoral, being there in communities, caring for those who are suffering, and helping “shepherd people into new ways of being in ecological balance.” And they can be practical, mobilizing their organizational and physical resources.

In his remarks, Dahl noted the history of religious groups being engaged with environmental issues going back to the 1970s. He emphasized the challenges in translating global goals to local situations and in measuring development according to values, not GDP. “How do you measure progress on values?” he asked.

Shomaker offered a policy perspective, noting that her remarks came on the same day that the EU announced its ambitious “Fit at 55” legislative agenda to cut emission of greenhouse gases by 55% and make Europe “the first climate-neutral continent.” The EU is embracing “the people’s agenda,” she said, which means acting with “a sense of urgency” about pollution. It also means embracing equity, not only equity within society (including respecting women’s knowledge and roles) but also intergenerational equity, recognizing that this generation has a responsibility to generations to come.

“We’re all in this together,” Annicchino concluded. “Nobody is saved alone.”

Wednesday’s webinar was sponsored by the G20 Interfaith Forum, a network of religiously linked institutions and initiatives that engage on global agendas, especially the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It was the fifth session of the group’s “Ahead of the 2021 Italy G20 Summit” series.

See also: Interfaith Initiatives to Achieve the Agenda 2030 Environmental Goals: Meeting Summary

Karenna Gore and Hildur Palsdottir on Reframing the Climate Crisis

 

Landmark and Transition Town Port Washington presentation with Karenna Gore, founder and director of The Center for Earth Ethics. Moderated by Hildur Palsdottir. This program is a part of a five-part Conversations from Main Street Climate Action Series with the goal of introducing community-centered climate solutions while also promoting individual action. Small changes to our daily routines can have lasting and impact on our environment and future.

March 18th tune in for CEE Advisor, Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountain keeper!

Click the links below for more info and registration for these programs.

Thursday, March 18 Regeneration Revolution

Thursday, April 1 Break Free from Plastics!

Thursday, April 15 “Green” Legislation

Thursday, April 29 Envisioning 2030

The Climate Action Series is presented in partnership with Transition Town Port Washington.

More info: https://bit.ly/ClimateActionSeries

Keystone XL Pipeline Canceled as DAPL Fight Continues and Line 3 Drills Under the Mississippi

With President Biden’s January 20th executive order canceling permits for the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline, my involvement with the Montana Sierra Club gave me some backseat insights into the many stages of pipeline resistance. Organizers often begin with lawsuits, sometimes with Indigenous groups or tribes as the leaders or co-plaintiffs challenging various legalities of pipelines. These challenges, which are necessarily based on what existing laws will recognize, often have to do with water crossings, endangered species survival, and Indigenous sacred sites and treaty territories.

Organizers check the boxes of every aspect of civic engagement to draw attention to these challenges, organizing letter-writing campaigns and public commentary addressed to elected officials and the agencies that issue permits to these pipelines, like the Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers. They hold marches and sit-ins, and write op-eds for the newspapers. At the end of that process, the companies seeking to build usually receive their permits. Many lawsuits can delay construction for a while, even though pipeline companies’ usual playbook includes constructing while permits are appealed in court, so they can later argue that they’ve invested too much to turn back on the project. In the last month, three major oil pipelines – Keystone XL (KXL), the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), and Enbridge Line 3 – have come to the forefront as environmental injustices the Biden administration must address.

During the Obama presidency, the KXL pipeline made national headlines. Most Americans were unaware, however, that after then-President Obama rejected KXL’s construction in 2015, Donald Trump put the project back on track at the beginning of his presidency in 2017. Between 2017 and 2021, organizers and activists, especially in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, have mobilized to fight this pipeline returned from the grave, even as the pandemic descended.

Unlike KXL, most pipeline protests in the U.S. receive little national media attention. That includes pipelines like Spectra Energy’s natural gas pipeline, which the Center for Earth Ethics’ Karenna Gore was arrested protesting in 2016. The Standing Rock Sioux led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which peaked in 2016, only garnering mainstream coverage when its resistance camp grew so large that people around the world knew its name and supported the resistance on social media. Similar to KXL, President Obama canceled permits for DAPL in 2016 just before he left the presidency. President Trump resurrected the pipeline in 2017. Since then, the Dakota Access pipeline has been funneling oil from North Dakota to Illinois for nearly four years.

(Photo by Keri Pickett) with link to article from The Nation. ‘Stopping Trump’s Last Pipeline Will Take All of Us’: A report from occupied Palisade, where Water Protectors confront a dying, but still deadly, energy behemoth. By Winona LaDuke

Since late November, news of another major oil pipeline resistance has spread through organizing communities. In northern Minnesota, Enbridge, a Canadian oil transport company, is constructing a new and expanded Line 3 across the Canada-U.S. border. Anishinaabe (Ojibwe)-led resistance groups have called for support from around the country. Enbridge’s first Line 3 was built in 1961, and its over 900 “structural anomalies” have finally pushed Enbridge to seek to reconstruct the pipeline along a new route, increasing its size and capacity, creating the ability to transport tar sands oil from Canada. Enbridge has released no plans for cleanup of the original Line 3 and its many leaks, and no laws in the state of Minnesota require it to do so. The original Line 3 pipeline cuts through the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations. Both the first and second Line 3 pipelines cut straight through the wetlands and wild rice growth that are sacred to the Anishinaabe people. In fact, treaties with the U.S. government in both 1842 and 1855 promised the Anishinaabe people the rights to hunt, fish, and gather from this territory of theirs. With the oil leaks and spills we know will follow this new pipeline construction, all of these ways of life are threatened.

Enbridge began constructing the new Line 3 in late November 2020 immediately following state and federal permitting of the pipeline. The White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, environmental groups, and the Department of Commerce of Minnesota are all involved in litigation against the pipeline, filed in December. For reliable, updated information on the pipeline resistance, see this Medium article. Only one tribal government out of the five in the immediate area of the pipeline, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, reached a financial settlement with Enbridge for the construction of the pipeline through their territory. However, Winona La Duke’s organization, Honor the Earth, reports that the Fond du Lac Band’s “agreement” misrepresents the situation the tribe faces.

Since the election in November, communities around KXL, DAPL, and Line 3 have looked to the Biden administration to continue acting on its promises for progressive environmental governance. KXL opponents have had the first victory. In North Dakota where the Dakota Access pipeline transports oil across Sioux treaty area, leaders from four different Sioux tribes sent a letter to President Biden asking him to shut down DAPL. Over in Minnesota, as Enbridge burrows under the Mississippi, water protectors call on President Biden and his nominated secretary of the interior, Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) to cancel permits for Line 3 as well. While a presidential decision can kill a pipeline for the remainder of a presidency, in these struggles only one thing is for sure: The protests, led by Indigenous water protectors around the country, only grow bigger with each new pipeline.

Here are links for further involvement in the Enbridge Line 3 resistance.

Honor the Earth – Line 3 Background

StopLine3.org up to date action


Author, Tess Gallagher Clancy

CEE Field Ed Student, MDiv candidate at Union Theological Seminary

Faith and Climate Crisis in the Biden Administration

In a Video Recorded for FÉ NO CLIMA, Center for Earth Ethics director Karenna Gore comments on the approximation between Faith and the Climate Crisis in the Biden Administration.

The founder and director of the Center for Earth Ethics at the Union’s Theological Seminary in New York, Karenna Gore, believes that the rapprochement between “religion” and “climate crisis” will be an important aspect of Joe Biden’s policies, president elected from the USA. The inauguration of Biden and deputy Kamala Harris on Wednesday, January 20, is considered a historic day for the climate agenda.

In a statement recorded especially for the IV Fé no Clima Meeting, at the end of last year, she affirms that, during the elections, Biden “made it clear that the climate is a priority” and stressed the importance of the appointment of the former Secretary of State, John Kerry, for the role of Special Representative on Climate Change for the new government. The message to the event’s participants is now available on Fé no Clima’s YouTube channel .

“President Joe Biden will trust God and will also rely on science to guide our work on Earth to protect God’s creation,” said Kerry last November, at the event that announced part of the new presidential office.

In the opinion of Karenna Gore, the new climate representative’s speech “signals and implies that involving religion will be crucial to the approach that the Biden administration will take in climate action”.

According to her, the work at the center she runs is focused on seeking solutions to the ecological crisis of the faith and traditions of indigenous peoples. “We work through education, convening, public speaking and movement building,” he explained. Recently, Fé no Clima, an Iser project, started a dialogue to deepen relations with the Center for Earth Ethics.

Regarding the link between beliefs and discussions about the environment, the activist says that “religion can create a sense of belonging that goes beyond political or partisan alignment and guides us to be the best version of ourselves”.

And he highlighted the importance of religion in social transformations. “Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that the teaching of the scriptures had a role in ending apartheid in South Africa,” he said, also celebrating the influence of Martin Luther King Jr, pastor of the Baptist Church, in the fight for civil rights in his country.

US returns to Paris Agreement

“I am also very excited to be speaking to you at a time when my country, the United States, announced that we will again participate in the Paris Agreement, a very important 2015 treaty in which all countries in the world have come together to create a plan to really face this serious existential crisis and overcome it,” said the director.

Biden made a commitment to return to the Paris climate change agreement on the first day of governing. The measure is part of a package of actions that will revert, on the day of inauguration, several measures of the Trump administration for this and other topics.

Read the full speech

In the video recorded for the event participants, Karenna Gore also pays homage to the environmentalist Alfredo Sirkis, who died last year. In addition to being a friend of the Gore family, Sirkis was director of Centro Brasil no Clima, a Brazilian partner of the Climate Reality Project, an organization created by former US vice president, Al Gore.

Published on: 20/01/2021 – # Fé no Clima

Banks Gather for Finance in Common Summit on Sustainability Solutions – Will it Matter?

This week 450 public development banks (PDBs) are gathering at the Finance in Common Summit, a seminal moment in the world of banking. The banks in attendance represent nearly $2.5 trillion in annual investments ranging from local banks and projects to multilateral banks providing development assistance across the globe. The mandate is simple: reorient the financial world towards a sustainable path. 

It’s a heavy task to say the least. The era of capitalism and now neoliberal capitalism has made the unadulterated pursuit of profit sacrosanct and there are no better acolytes than those in the fossil fuel industries. Oil, gas, and coal have generated a degree of wealth and excess that has no corollary in history and has little chance of being matched in the future. It is made possible by once robust but now rapidly depleting gas and oil reserves, and a mechanistic and bureaucratic economy the facilitates its lopsidedness. The movers of loans and investments insist on control by a small number of experts who, in their diligence, require private control over the complexities of extraction, refinement, and shipment, but also the adjacent utilities such as water and electricity to insure that industry is done properly. These experts, of course, are not locals and the economic gravity sink they create pulls the cash ever Northward leaving small profits in the local orbit to be picked up by the same sort of sideways person that can be found everywhere who is willing to forgo national interests for their own. 

In 2016, the World Bank along with a number of other major multilateral development banks pledged to divest themselves from fossil fuel development projects to support the Paris Climate Goals. Despite their pledge, they have managed to provide some $10.5 billion in loans towards fossil fuel development while in that same time frame given relatively anemic funding for sustainable energy projects.

The World Bank and other PDBs have become so inured to the process that it has an inertia that is proving hard to derail. In the last two years the World Bank has surreptitiously bankrolled two coal mega projects one in Indonesia and the other in Guyana. Both are carbon bombs in their own right, the first in Indonesia which when fully operational will produce annual emissions equivalent to those of Spain and Thailand. The second supports Exxon’s endeavor to relieve Guyana of the nearly 13.6 billion barrels of oil and 32 trillion cubic feet of natural gas found off its coast. 

Enter the conversation that has started this week at the Finance in Common Summit. The question is not whether PDBs can agree to fund sustainable energy projects. Of course they can. There’s nothing more simple than giving $5 billion to Vestas instead of BP. No, the question is more existential. It’s asking whether or not this industry can willingly and fundamentally change the nature of its ultimate concern of profit no matter the costs. Can they move away from a development paradigm that is so streamlined and so disproportionately powerful and profitable for a system that is anything but? 

The problem with sustainability is that it is just that: it’s sustainable. Once the minerals are mined, the turbines up and the solar panels in place the profit margins become relatively slim as compared to fossil fuels. There is no shipping of product, no enormous subsidies from governments – estimates place them between $400 billion and $5 trillion – and no profits from service stations, downstream plants, and petrochemicals products. 

This is not to say there aren’t profits in sustainable energy. There are but a new generation of companies such as Tesla, Vestas, and countless other startups have filled the space left by legacy energy groups who have invested more in the sector’s demise than in its growth potential. As for the bank’s, their balance sheets demonstrate a stalwart commitment to fossil fuels.

What’s important to remember about PDBs is that their investment decisions are determined by a board of governors who represent the interests of their respective stakeholder nations which contribute monies to the banks. So as much as the investments reflect the banks desire to cultivate maximum return on their investments it’s also demonstration of values by the nation states, most all of which signed the Paris Climate Accord, that they are willing with one hand to support climate solutions and with the other hand support the industries fueling global warming.

Without question 2020 marks a crossroads for climate action. The moral and life giving choice may be obvious for many but morality and the fostering of life are tenets long forsaken by those whose Mecca is a stripped and shipped El Dorado. That’s why the Finance in Common Summit will be so interesting to watch. The rhetoric coming out of the event will undoubtedly be inspired but will there be action? And if there is, will the action be a repackaged version of a deeply exploitative economy? Or perhaps they will have their own road to Damascus moment and embark on a journey of subdued short-term margins for long-term market health and reliability.

CEE Update and Vote the Earth!

The Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University are launching Vote the Earth, an interactive poetry project connecting place and voice. Expanding on the Earth Stanzas community poem project launched in honor of 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, Vote the Earth draws on the inspiration of George Ella Lyons’ poem “Where I Am From,” and invites visitors to view the short videos and poems on the map and to share their own poetic voice.

Participate

As the election approaches, we invite you to help inspire voters to put their love for the Earth behind the power of their vote – to #VotefortheEarth! In a time when wildfires burn out west, tropical storms flood the Gulf Coast, and we remain in the grips of a global pandemic, many of us seek the healing experiences offered to us by the land. There is no more important time to come together for the climate, ethics, voting and justice. Let’s make our vote count for the places we love – to consider the question of positionality through an ecological lens, giving poetic voice to our forests and our watersheds, invoking their political agency through Ecological Citizenship.In the lead up to the U.S. elections on November 3rd, we offer this platform to map the creative voices of the Earth and ask your networks to help us spread the word.

Full link:  www.vote.earthstanzas.com or click below:

The Center for Earth Ethics is a forum for education, public discourse and movement building that draws on faith and wisdom traditions to address our ecological crisis and its root causes at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

The Wick Poetry Center, in Kent State University’s College of Arts & Sciences, is home to the award-winning Traveling Stanzas project, and is one of the premier university poetry centers in the country. It is a national leader for the range, quality, and innovative outreach in the community.

For more information please contact:

Email David Hassler, Director, WPC

Email Shannon M.D. Smith, Communications Manager, CEE


Center for Earth Ethics Director, Karenna Gore was honored to speak at the Global Vision Summit lifting up the teachings of the Dalai Lama on five concepts as keys to overcoming the climate crisis: karma, inter-dependence, universal responsibility, happiness and compassion. Listen Now.


Join CEE and the Big Shift Global Campaign in telling the World Bank to stop using public money to fund fossil fuel development projects. 



Sign the Petition here:
https://bigshiftglobal.org/world-bank


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Climate Activism – Catherine Flowers, Rev. Yearwood, Varshini Prakash & Mustafa Ali

Introducing the Bloomberg Green Festival

September 14 – 18, 2020

The Bloomberg Green Festival 2020 was a 5-day immersive experience featuring global voices and proprietary insight.

The Bloomberg Green Festival was organized to be a true thought leadership experience operating at the crossroads of sustainability, design, culture, food, technology, science, politics and entertainment. Built to foster solutions-oriented conversations, the five-day festival featured a mix of panels, presentations, fireside chats, and interactive elements. Focused on core issues of climate action, the Green Festival is a celebration of the thinkers, scientists and practitioners leading the way in the climate era.

You can still watch sessions online, by completing the Registration, including the Climate Activism session with Catherine Coleman Flowers. Catherine is the founder of CREEJ, Center for Earth Ethics Senior Fellow for Environmental Justice & Civic Engagement, and author of Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret.

 

Climate Activism

10:00 AM – The Green Vote

  • Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., President & Founder, Hip Hop Caucus
  • Moderator: Jillian Goodman, Reporter, Bloomberg Green

10:25 AM – Winning the New Green Deal

  • Varshini Prakash, Co-Founder & Executive Director, The Sunrise Movement
  • Moderator: Akshat Rathi, Reporter, Bloomberg Green

10:50 AM – Climate Justice

  • Catherine Coleman Flowers, Founder, Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice
  • Mustafa Santiago Ali, Vice President of Environmental Justice, Climate, and Community Revitalization, The National Wildlife Federation
  • Moderator: Jillian Goodman, Reporter, Bloomberg Green

Pledge to be a Faith Climate Justice Voter!

This is a moment for fundamental change. When people of faith vote our values, elected officials take note. We can help make change by electing leaders who are committed to ending structures of oppression, ending environmental injustices, and tackling climate change.

Join us in helping communicate our values of caring for God’s Creation and loving our neighbors.

I pledge to vote with climate and Creation in mind.

I am pledging to be a Faith Climate Justice Voter to put love into action for every living creature and for every vulnerable community suffering the impacts of our changing climate, from sea rise, to extreme heat, to devastating droughts, to supercharged storms.

My pledge to vote for climate justice is rooted in environmental justice. I am in solidarity with all who are disproportionately burdened with climate impacts, including Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities.

I believe that our nation’s elected leaders and our public policies should reflect our shared values. By pledging to be a consistent voter and vote with climate justice in mind, I am communicating the values of caring for God’s Creation and our children’s future.

You pledge to vote. We remind you to keep your word. It’s so easy. And it works.

Climate Crisis Policy Launches Climate Movement Campaign

The Center for Earth Ethics has been participating in the Climate Crisis Policy (CCP) review of pending climate legislation. We strongly encourage all those interested in protecting our environment through the legislative process to use the extensive resources collected by CCP to deepen your understanding of proposed legislation. You can participate by attending the bi-weekly Action Campaign calls, through Climate Crisis Policy’s “Adopt-a-District” program, join the Faith Mobilization, or find another way to engage your community and representatives.

A “Climate Bill Package” Creates Unified Front for Climate Movement, Preparing Now for Nationally Coordinated Effort in 2021

 

For Climate Week 2020, a nationwide network has launched a ”Climate Bill Package” campaign, uniting 10 bills spanning key policy sectors.  Designed to unite the underlying movements, the bills are collectively supported by over 1200 organizations.

 

The Climate Bill Package tackles regenerative agriculture, fracking, fossil fuel subsidies, plastics, refrigerants, confined animal feeding operations, toxic pesticides, planting billions of trees, restoring wetlands, environmental justice, and just transition, with additional bills pending.

 

Collectively, these have a myriad of climate, environmental and structural benefits, and serve as core elements of a more comprehensive legislative agenda in 2021.  

 

“Strategically, the package unites movements to increase the political power needed for victory,” said Todd Fernandez, Director of Climate Crisis Policy, featuring a digest of climate solutions from 150 sources.  “If we work together across topics, climate activists can defeat the triumvirate of Big Oil, Big Ag & Big Pharma and reclaim our democracy.  But we have to be ready.”

 

The Climate Bill Package network will target all 435 Congressional Districts with an Adopt-A-District effort where local organizations form mini-coalitions to secure co-sponsorship of the package. In 2020, the network will target 100 Districts, led by local leaders with Climate Reality, Project Drawdown, Unitarian Universalists, Sierra Club, 350, and more.

 

Among the many NGOs leading legislative efforts, the network collaborates with the Center for Biological Diversity, Mighty Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Food & Water Action, Family Farm Alliance, Environmental Investigation Agency, Climate Justice Alliance, The Center for Earth Ethics, and The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

 

Expectations are high that 2021 will present the first opportunity for huge climate action in Congress.  To prepare, the network aims to grow nationwide coalition capacity and infrastructure so that civil society writ large is ready to seize this moment and save our planet from ecological disaster.  

 

The network hosts open meetings on Wednesdays featuring experts on the legislation and action with past meetings available on YouTube.  The website lists the Package Bills, Sponsors, Group Support, and District leads. They are also reviewing the U.S. House Climate Action Plan to identify what’s good, bad, and missing, to prepare for action in 2021.

2020 CLIMATE BILL PACKAGE 
(See Detailed Summaries; Outreach Toolkit)

 Materials

1. Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 (H5845 – 2020):

  • Phases out most common single-use non-recyclable plastic products by 2022
  • Reforms waste and recycling programs, and establishes nationwide bottle return refund program
  • Holds corporations responsible for cleaning up plastic pollution

2. American Innovation & Manufacturing Act (H5544 – 2020)

  • Bipartisan bill to replace environmentally harmful hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigeration and air conditioning with more efficient cooling products
  • Creates 33,000 manufacturing jobs and an estimated 2.5M industry jobs by 2027

3. Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (H7940 – 2020)

  • Bans pesticides shown to cause significant harm to children, adults, and the environment, some which are already banned or restricted in Europe & Canada
  • Bans insecticides that lead to pollinator collapse
  • Protects frontline communities directly impacted by pesticide exposure

 

Farming & Forests

4. Farm System Reform Act (H6718 – 2020)

  • Phases out concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and large factory farms that produce enormous waste and harmful pollution
  • Offers buyouts to help farmers transition from CAFOs to regenerative practices


5. Food & Agribusiness Merger Moratorium Act (H2933 – 2019)

  • Halts corporate consolidation in the food & farming industries, which devastates independent farms and can thwart efforts on regenerative practices
  • Establishes commission to investigate the impact of market concentration


6. Climate Stewardship Act (H4269 – 2019)

  • Supports programs to reduce or offset one-third of agricultural emissions by 2025
  • Plants 16 billion trees, including 400 million in urban areas
  • Restores and protects 2 million acres of essential coastal wetlands
  • Invests in regional food systems, helping small and medium sized farms provide fresh, nutritious food to more people via local systems


7. Agriculture Resilience Act (H5861 – 2020)

  • Rewards farmers for promoting healthy soil and carbon sequestration
  • Supports farmers for practicing pasture-based livestock systems
  • Provides financial incentives to help farms transition to green energy
  • New federal programs aimed at reducing food waste

 

Fossil Fuels


8. Fracking Ban Act (S.3247 / H5857 – 2020)

  • Bans fracking nationwide by 2025 and prioritizes transition of fossil fuel workers into good-paying jobs in their communities
  • Immediately bans new federal permits for fracking-related infrastructure and bans fracking within 2,500ft of homes


9. End Polluter Welfare Act (H7781 – 2020)

  • Eliminates up to $150B in federal subsidies to fossil fuel companies over 10yrs
Environmental Justice & Just Transition


10. Environmental Justice for All Act (H5986 – 2020)

  • Addresses disparities in environmental and public health, particularly impacting under-served communities and communities of color
  • Provides economic assistance for communities that depend on the fossil fuel industry, ensuring a fair and just transition for workers and local economies

Help Secure Sponsors! Adopt-A-District.

Why Climate Change is an Environmental Justice Issue

BY  |Originally published SEPTEMBER 22, 2020 for State of the Planet – The Earth Institute’s blog at Columbia University

 

September 21-27 is Climate Week in New York City. Join us for a series of online events and blog posts covering the climate crisis and pointing us towards action.

 

While COVID-19 has killed 200,000 Americans so far, communities of color have borne disproportionately greater impacts of the pandemic. Black, Indigenous and LatinX Americans are at least three times more likely to die of COVID than whites. In 23 states, there were 3.5 times more cases among American Indian and Alaskan Native communities than in white communities. Many of the reasons these communities of color are falling victim to the pandemic are the same reasons why they are hardest hit by the impacts of climate change.

How communities of color are affected by climate change

Climate change is a threat to everyone’s physical health, mental health, air, water, food and shelter, but some groups—socially and economically disadvantaged ones—face the greatest risks. This is because of where they live, their health, income, language barriers, and limited access to resources. In the U.S., these more vulnerable communities are largely the communities of color, immigrants, low-income communities and people for whom English is not their native language. As time goes on, they will suffer the worst impacts of climate change, unless we recognize that fighting climate change and environmental justice are inextricably linked.

Heat

The U.S. is facing warming temperatures and more intense and frequent heat waves as the climate changes. Higher temperatures lead to more deaths and illness, hospital and emergency room visits, and birth defects. Extreme heat can cause heat cramps, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, hyperthermia, and dehydration.

patient in hospital bed

A heat stroke patient in the ER (Photo: Janine Rivera)

Disadvantaged communities have higher rates of health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Heat stress can exacerbate heart disease and diabetes, and warming temperatures result in more pollen and smog, which can worsen asthma and COPD. Heat waves also affect birth outcomes. A study of the impact of California heat waves from 1999 to 2011 on infants found that mortality rates were highest for Black infants. Moreover, disadvantaged communities often lack access to good medical care and health insurance.

African Americans are three times more likely than whites to live in old, crowded or inferior housing; residents of homes with poor insulation and no air conditioning are particularly susceptible to the effects of increased heat. In addition, low-income areas in cities have been found to be five to 12 degrees hotter than higher income neighborhoods because they have fewer trees and parks, and more asphalt that retains heat.

Extreme weather events

While climate change cannot be definitively linked to any particular extreme weather event, incidents of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, heavy downpours, winter storms, floods and hurricanes have increased and climate change is expected to make them more frequent and intense.

Extreme weather events can cause injury, illness, and death. Changes in precipitation patterns and warming water temperatures enable bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxic algae to flourish; heavy rains and flooding can pollute drinking water and increase water contamination, potentially causing gastrointestinal illnesses like diarrhea and damaging livers and kidneys.

buildings destroyed by hurricane katrina

Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage. Photo: FEMA/Mark Wolfe

Extreme weather events also disrupt electrical power, water systems and transportation, as well as the communication networks needed to access emergency services and health care. Disadvantaged communities are particularly at risk because subpar housing with old infrastructure may be more vulnerable to power outages, water issues and damage. Residents of these communities may lack adequate health care, medicines, health insurance, and access to public health warnings in a language they can understand. In addition, they may not have access to transportation to escape the impacts of extreme weather, or home insurance and other resources to relocate or rebuild after a disaster. Communities of color are also less likely to receive adequate protection against disasters or a prompt response in case of emergencies. In addition to physical hardships, the stress and anxiety of dealing with these impacts of extreme weather can end up exacerbating mental health problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress and suicide.

Poor air quality

While climate change does not cause poor air quality, burning fossil fuels does; and climate change can worsen air quality. Heat waves cause air masses to remain stagnant and prevent air pollution from moving away. Warmer temperatures lead to the creation of more smog, particularly during summer. And wildfires, fueled by heat waves and drought, produce smoke that contains toxic pollutants.

Living with polluted air can lead to heart and lung diseases, aggravate allergies and asthma and cause premature death. People who live in urban areas with air pollution, or who have medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma or COPD, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution.

child in hospital bed

Air pollution exacerbates asthma. Photo: Dani

Black people are three times more likely to die from air pollution than white people. This is in part because they are 70 percent more likely to live in counties that are in violation of federal air pollution standards. A University of Minnesota study found that, on average, people of color are exposed to 38 percent higher levels of nitrogen dioxide outdoor air pollution than white people. One reason for the high COVID-19 death rate among African Americans is that cumulative exposure to air pollution leads to a significant increase in the COVID death rate, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

Pollution

More people of color live in places that are polluted with toxic waste, which can lead to illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and asthma. These pre-existing conditions put people at higher risk for the more severe effects of COVID-19.

The fact that disadvantaged communities are in some of the most polluted environments in the U.S. is no coincidence. Communities of color are often chosen as sites for landfills, chemical plants, bus terminals and other dirty businesses because corporations know it’s harder for these residents to object. They usually lack the connections to lawmakers who could protect them and can’t afford to hire technical or legal help to put up a fight. They may not understand how they will be impacted, perhaps because the information is not in their native language. A 1987 reportshowed that race was the single most important factor in determining where to locate a toxic waste facility in the U.S. It found that “Communities with the greatest number of commercial hazardous waste facilities had the highest composition of racial and ethnic residents.”

For example, while Blacks make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, 68 percent live within 30 miles of a coal plant. LatinX people are 17 percent of the population, but 39 percent of them live near coal plants. A new report found that about 2,000 official and potential highly contaminated Superfund sites are at risk of flooding due to sea level rise; the areas around these sites are mainly communities of color and low-income communities.

The link between climate change and environmental justice

Mary Annaïse Heglar, a climate justice essayist and former writer-in-residence at the Earth Institute, asserts that climate change is actually the product of racism. “It started with conquest, genocides, slavery, and colonialism,” she wrote. “That is the moment when White men’s relationship with living things became extractive and disharmonious. Everything was for the taking; everything was for sale. The fossil fuel industry was literally built on the backs and over the graves of Indigenous people around the globe, as they were forced off their land and either slaughtered or subjugated — from the Arab world to Africa, from Asia to the Americas. Again, it was no accident.”

The harmful impacts of climate change are linked to historical neglect and racism. When Black people migrated North from the South in the early 20th century, many did not have jobs or money; consequently they were forced to live in substandard housing. Jim Crow laws in the South reinforced racial segregation, prohibiting Blacks from moving into white neighborhoods. In the 1930s through the 1960s, the federal government’s “redlining” policy denied federally backed mortgages and credit to minority neighborhoods. As a result, African Americans had limited access to better homes and all the advantages that went with them—a healthy environment, better schools and healthcare, and more food options.

Prime examples of environmental injustice

Poor sanitation in the U.S.

Catherine Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice and a senior fellow for the Center for Earth Ethics, which is affiliated with the Earth Institute, is from Lowndes County, Alabama. As a child growing up in a poor, mostly Black rural area with less than 10,000 residents, she used an outhouse before her family installed indoor plumbing. After leaving to get an education, Flowers returned to Alabama in 2002 and still saw extreme disparities in rural wastewater treatment. She visited many homes with sewage backing up into their homes or pooling in their yards, as many residents couldn’t afford onsite wastewater treatment. She is still advocating for proper sanitation in Lowndes. As a result of her work, Baylor College’s National School of Tropical Medicine conducted a peer-reviewed study which showed that over 30 percent of Lowndes County residents had hookworm and other tropical parasites due to poor sanitation.

”We’re also seeing that there is a relationship between [wastewater and] COVID infections,” added Flowers. “We don’t know exactly what it is yet—but you can actually measure wastewater to determine the level of infections in the community before people start showing up with the illness.” In Lowndes, one of every 18 residents has COVID-19; it is one of the highest infection rates in the U.S.

Today, Flowers works at the intersection between climate change and wastewater throughout the U.S. “The more we see sea level rise, the more we’re going to have wastewater problems,” she said. Her new book, Waste, One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, due out in November, shows how proper sanitation is essential as climate change will likely bring sewage to more backyards everywhere, not just in poor communities.

Cancer Alley

An 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana, hosts the densest concentration of petrochemical companies in the U.S. There have been so many cases of cancer and death in the area that it became known as “Cancer Alley.”

industries next to communities

Cancer Alley (Photo: Gines A. Sanchez)

Most of these petrochemical plants are situated near towns that are largely poor and Black. There are 30 large plants within 10 miles of mostly Black St. Gabriel, with 13 within three miles. St. James Parish, whose population is roughly half Black and half white, has over 30 petrochemical plants, but the majority are located in the district that is 80 percent Black.

These plants not only emit greenhouse gases that are exacerbating climate change, but the particulate matter they expel can contain hundreds of different chemicals. Chronic exposure to this air pollution can lead to heart and respiratory illnesses and diabetes. As such, it is no surprise that St. James Parish is among the 20 U.S. counties with the highest per-capita death rates from COVID-19.

Despite efforts of the residents to fight back, seven new petrochemical plants have been approved since 2015; five more are awaiting approval.

Hurricane Katrina

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm, caused extensive destruction in New Orleans and its environs. More than half of the 1,200 people who died were Black and 80 percent of the homes that were destroyed belonged to Black residents. The mostly Black neighborhoods of New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward were hit hardest by Katrina because while the levees in white areas had been shored up after earlier hurricanes, these poorer neighborhoods had received less government funding for flood protection. After the hurricane, when initial plans for rebuilding were in process, white neighborhoods again got priority, even if they had experienced less flooding. Eventually federal funds were directed toward the rebuilding of parts of the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East and the strengthening of their levees.

Flint, MI

In 2014, the city of Flint, MI, whose population is 56.6 percent Black, decided to draw its drinking water from the polluted Flint River in order to save money until a new pipeline from Lake Huron could be built. Previously the city had brought in treated drinking water from Detroit. Because the river had been used by industry as an illegal waste dump for many years, the water was corrosive, but officials failed to treat it. As a result, the water leached lead from the city’s aging pipelines. Officials claimed the water was safe, but more than 40 percent of the homes had elevated lead levels. As almost 100,000 residents — including 9,000 children — drank lead-laced water, lead levels in the children’s blood doubled and tripled in some neighborhoods, putting them at high risk for neurological damage.

In October, 2015, the city began importing water from Detroit again. An ongoing project to replace lead service pipes is expected to be complete by the end of November. And just recently, Flint victims were awarded a settlement of $600 million, with 80 percent of it designated for the affected children.

Steps to achieve environmental justice

As the founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Catherine Flowers works to implement the best practices to reduce environmental injustice. Here are some key strategies she prescribes.

  • Acknowledge the damage and try to repair it.
  • Clean up sites where environmental damage has been done.
  • Create an equitable system for decision-making so there is not an undue burden placed on disadvantaged communities. “Lobbyists that represent these [polluting] companies shouldn’t have more influence than the people who live in the area that are impacted by it,” said Flowers. “We need to make sure that the people that live in the community are sitting at the table when decisions are being made about what’s located in their community.”
  • Call out the officials who are making decisions that are not in the best interest of the people they represent.
  • Vote to put in place representatives that listen to their constituents rather than the people and companies that donate to them.
  • Provide climate training to help people become more engaged. For example, the Climate Reality Project (Flowers sits on its board of directors) trains everyday people to fight for solutions and change in their communities.
  • Partner with universities to conduct peer-reviewed studies of health impacts to help validate and draw attention to the experiences of disadvantaged communities.
  • Build cleaner and greener. “We cannot discount the impact this could have on communities around the world,” said Flowers. “If we don’t pollute and we have a Green New Deal to build better, cleaner, and greener, then we won’t have these environmental justice issues.”