Category: Environmental Justice

Call to Action – Mountain Valley Pipeline

Now is the time to act.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to extend MVP’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity until October 13, 2026. This extension, which would be the second extension granted, would give MVP four more years to complete the project.

The MVP poses catastrophic impacts to the local environment and communities along its path, along with tremendous negative broader climate impacts. (The pipeline would have an atmospheric impact equal to to 26 typical coal plants, or 19 million cars.) There is no clear need for the MVP, which the pipeline company’s owners admitted to the SEC “has a very low probability of completion.”

Please contact the FERC to oppose any extension of MVP’s certificate of necessity. The deadline for public comment is Friday, July 29.

Here are steps that individuals and organizations can take:

Related Reading:

Karenna Gore, “The Common Wealth of Water,” Virginia Mercury (Oct. 18, 2021) 

Black Interfaith in the Time of Climate Crisis

On Tuesday, May 17, Executive Director Karenna Gore participated at “Black Interfaith in the Time of Climate Crisis” at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.  The event addressed “the crucial role of Black faith leaders and spiritual traditions in the environmental justice movement and the unique challenges climate change poses to Black communities.”

According to the Religious News Service, “about 100 representatives of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Native American traditions” participated in at the forum, co-sponsored by Interfaith America with the Center for Earth Ethics.

The Rev. Fred Davie, senior adviser for racial equity at Interfaith America and senior strategic advisor to the president at Union Theological Seminary, introduced the event, noting Interfaith America’s work to “center and understand Black interfaith cooperation as a phenomenon to itself.”

Former Vice President Al Gore, a keynote speaker, noted that “the climate crisis at its core is a spiritual crisis.” He noted that climate change and pollution “disproportionately affect the marginalized and those discriminated against.” “So much of the struggle for environmental justice is rooted in economic injustice,” said Mr. Gore. “Our duty as people of faith is to seek out these injustices and point them out.”

Ibrahim Abdul-Martin, co-founder of Green Squash Consulting and a Black Interfaith fellow at Interfaith America, offered “a message from the ancient future.” Abdul-Martin, who also is a member of CEE’s Advisory Board, reminded listeners that they had to “acknowledge the oneness of God and His creation.”

CEE Executive Director Karenna Gore participated in a panel with Abdul-Martin, William J. Barber III, director of climate and environmental justice at The Climate Reality Project, Crystal Cavalier, co-founder of Seven Directions of Service, and Pamelo Ayo Yetunde, co-founder of Center of the Heart. Alexis Vaughan, director of racial equity initiatives at Interfaith America, moderated.

Barber, who also is a fellow at CEE, noted the depth of Black faith communities in the environmental justice movement. “Faith communities have always been bastions of political activism,” he said.

Ms. Gore noted the “power of faith” within African American culture and history. “We can’t just act at the level of effect; we need to be at the level of cause,” she said. “Faith communities work at the level of cause.”

“Being in this movement makes me feel some hope,” she said.

In closing, Mr. Gore exhorted the audience to remain engaged. “How can we glorify the Creator while participating in the destruction of the glorious Earth?,” he asked. “We know how to solve the climate crisis,” Mr. Gore said, “but we need the political will.”

Related

Religious News Service. “Gore says climate crisis like ‘nature hike right through the Book of Revelation.’”
Interfaith America. “Why Black Faith Leaders Are Crucial in the Fight for Environmental Justice.”

NB. This post has been updated to include a link to YouTube.

Meeting the Moment: Earth Day 2022

Karenna Gore to Discuss “Widening the Circle” at Yale, February 23

“Widening the Circle”
Wednesday, February 23, 2022
12 p.m. New Haven & New York
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On Wednesday, February 23, 2022, at noon Eastern Time, Executive Director Karenna Gore will address Yale students and guests as a session in the School of the Environment BIOMES speaker series. The title of Ms. Gore’s address, “Widening the Circle,” will examine the root causes of today’s compound ecological crisis.

Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-founder and co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale, will introduce Ms. Gore. The talk will be broadcast live to members of the Yale community in Burke Auditorium and online to guests.

William J. Barber III Joins CEE as Fellow

Environmental justice scholar and advocate William J. Barber III has joined CEE as a fellow for the Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement Program. He brings to the Center nearly a decade of social justice organizing experience along with deep academic training in both the science and the law behind environmental and climate issues.

“I am pleased to join the Center as a fellow for this next year,” says Barber. “The work that the Center is doing to reclaim the calls for stewardship of our planet—across multiple faiths—speaks to my own desire to explore how we build a movement of power and principle to save people and planet.”

“We are thrilled that Will has taken this fellowship with the Center for Earth Ethics,” says Executive Director Karenna Gore. “He has a deep understanding of the intersection of issues that have culminated in the climate crisis and brings extraordinary skills, insight and passion to solving it in a way that forwards justice.”

“As a son of the church, exploring these intersections of faith and social activism resonates with my own upbringing rooted in a legacy of social justice ministry,” adds Barber.

Barber recently co-authored, with Ethan Blumenthal, an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer presenting “an objective view of implementing greenhouse reduction policies in North Carolina while fully addressing equity and environmental justice concerns.” He was also profiled as part of LinkedIn’s “Rising Leaders” series.

Barber is the strategic partnerships manager at The Climate Reality Project, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary’s Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board, as well as co-chair for the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign Ecological Devastation Committee.

Recently, he founded The Rural Beacon Initiative, a multi-member startup that provides consultation for groups looking to advance equity, climate justice, and environmental justice.

He has several years of experience in grassroots and community organizing. He was a field secretary for the North Carolina NAACP for two years and was one of a three-member leadership team for its Moral Freedom Summer, a long-term voter mobilization campaign. Barber earned his B.S. in environmental physics from North Carolina Central University and earned his juris doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of law, where he focused on environmental law and policy.

william j. barber iii Biography >

 

 

 

Aliou Niang to Discuss Postcolonial Biblical Criticism on November 5

Postcolonial Poetics: Aliou Niang on the Human-Nature Relationship
Friday, November 5, 2021 – Online
9 a.m. Los Angeles | 12 p.m. New York | 4 p.m. Dakar | 5 p.m. Paris

REGISTER TODAY

How can we understand the Bible and other faith teachings in the context of today’s ecological crisis? How can we restore traditional practices that once directed a mutual relationship among God, humans and nature?

These are among the questions raised by Aliou Niang, associate professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary, in “A Poetics of Postcolonial Biblical Criticism: God, Human-Nature Relationship, and Negritude” (2019). Niang will discuss these and other issues raised in his book in a webinar on Friday, November 5, at noon Eastern Time.

Left to right: Aliou Niang, Souleymane Diagne, Petra Thombs

A native of Senegal and member of the region’s Diola people, Niang describes his book as “a humble reading of Scripture in conversation with Diola faith traditions.” He integrates the work of Léopold Sédar Senghor, the architect of the concept of Négritude, and other postcolonial theorists to “reposition the colonized” and learn from “people who have been negotiating life with nature since time immemorial and were aware of climate change since its onset.”

At the discussion, Columbia University Professor of French and of Philosophy Souleymane Diagne, who also directs the Institute of African Studies at Columbia, will offer a response to Niang’s presentation. Rev. Petra Thombs, executive director of the Ramapough Lenape Nation Community Center in Mahwah, N.J., will provide a reflection.

“Postcolonial Poetics: Aliou Niang on the Human-Nature Relationship” is co-sponsored by the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and the Institute for African Studies at Columbia University.

This webinar is free, but registration is required.

REGISTER TODAY 

 

PARTICIPANT BIOGRAPHIES

Aliou Cisse Niang is associate professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Before joining Union, he served as assistant and associate professor of New Testament at Memphis Theological Seminary in Tennessee, where he was named The Rev. Dr. James L. Netters Associate Professor of New Testament and received The Paul R. Brown Distinguished Teaching Award. His previous books include “Faith and Freedom in Galatia and Senegal” (2009) and “Text, Image and Christians in the Graeco-Roman World: A Festschrift in Honor of David Lee Balch” (2012), which he co-edited with Carolyn Osiek.

Souleymane Bachir Diagne is professor of French and of philosophy at Columbia University, where he also directs the Institute for African Studies. Before joining Columbia, he taught philosophy for many years at Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar (Senegal) and at Northwestern University. He is the author of “African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson, and the Idea of Negritude” (2011), “Bergson postcolonial. L’élan vital dans la pensée de Senghor et de Mohamed Iqbal” (2011), “The Ink of the Scholars: Reflections on Philosophy in Africa” (2016), and “Open to Reason: Muslim Philosophers in Conversation with Western Tradition” (2018).

Petra Thombs is the executive director of the Ramapough Lenape Community Center in Mahwah, N.J., operated by the Ramapough Mountain Indians. She is in preliminary fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association, and was ordained in 2021. A graduate from Union Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity and a major in church history, she focuses on the Doctrine of Discovery as it has fostered racism and extreme marginalization for Indigenous communities globally.

Karenna Gore Denounces “Terrible Burden” of Mountain Valley Pipeline

On the 49th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Executive Director Karenna Gore penned a guest column, “The common wealth of water,” in the Virginia Mercury. Gore urged Virginia’s state government not to certify the planned Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would bring fracked gas from West Virginia to southern Virginia.

“Virginians who live along this pipeline route are experiencing a terrible burden. It is financial, but it also goes far beyond that,” she writes. “They are forced to watch as the government hands over their landscape to private interests who damage it, all for the sake of a project that does not benefit them and should not even exist.”

READ THE ENTIRE COLUMN HERE 

White House Announces Environmental Justice Advisory Council Members including Catherine Coleman Flowers

Today, the White House announced the members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. The advisory council will provide advice and recommendations to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council on how to address current and historic environmental injustices, including recommendations for updating Executive Order 12898.

The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) was established by President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad to fulfill his and Vice President Harris’s commitment to confronting longstanding environmental injustices and to ensuring that historically marginalized and polluted, overburdened communities have greater input on federal policies and decisions.

“We know that we cannot achieve health justice, economic justice, racial justice, or educational justice without environmental justice. That is why President Biden and I are committed to addressing environmental injustice,” said Vice President Harris. “This historic White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council will ensure that our administration’s work is informed by the insights, expertise, and lived experience of environmental justice leaders from across the nation.”

The WHEJAC members will represent a diverse set of geographical regions and will serve in a voluntary capacity.

• LaTricea Adams, Michigan
• Susana Almanza, Texas
• Jade Begay, South Dakota
• Maria Belen-Power, Massachusetts
• Dr. Robert Bullard, Texas
• Tom Cormons, Virginia
• Andrea Delgado, Washington, D.C.
• Catherine Flowers, Alabama
• Jerome Foster, New York
• Kim Havey, Minnesota
• Angelo Logan, California
• Maria Lopez-Nunez, New Jersey
• Harold Mitchell, South Carolina
• Richard Moore, New Mexico
• Rachel Morello-Frosch, California
• Juan Parras, Texas
• Michele Roberts, Washington, D.C.
• Ruth Santiago, Puerto Rico
• Nicky Sheats, New Jersey
• Peggy Shepard, New York
• Carletta Tilousi, Arizona
• Vi Waghiyi, Alaska
• Kyle Whyte, Michigan
• Beverly Wright, Louisiana
• Hli Xyooj, Minnesota
• Miya Yoshitani, California

“This is a historic moment that environmental justice communities have been working toward for decades. President Biden and Vice President Harris are, for the first time ever, bringing the voices, perspectives, and expertise of environmental justice communities into a formal advisory role at the White House,” said Cecilia Martinez, Senior Director for Environmental Justice, CEQ. “The advisory council builds off the important work of EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and will provide input and recommendations to senior leaders across government as this administration works to clean up toxic pollution, create good-paying, union jobs in all communities, and give every child in America the chance to grow up healthy.”

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) will fund and provide administrative support for the WHEJAC. The first meeting of the WHEJAC will be held virtually tomorrow, March 30, and will be open to the public. Please visit the U.S. EPA’s WHEJAC webpage for more information at:  www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/white-house-environmental-justice-advisory-council.

The WHEJAC will complement the ongoing work of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee established in 1993 to provide advice and recommendations on EJ issues to the Administrator of the EPA. More information about NEJAC can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/national-environmental-justice-advisory-council

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Water, Sanitation and Inequality in the US – Catherine Coleman Flowers project with The Guardian

Help us Investigate Sanitation Inequality in the US

Categories: Public Programs & Events

We know that access to sanitation – just like access to clean air and water – is so often divided along race and class lines. But while there’s never been more awareness that environmental racism pervades the US, there’s not enough research detailing how – making solutions hard to come by.

For that reason, we’re excited to announce that Union is supporting a critical environmental justice project focused on sanitation inequality – one that every one of us can take part in.

We are joining with the Guardian newspaper and the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice in a project called “America’s Dirty Divide”. Led by the environmental justice pioneer and senior fellow at the Center for Earth Ethics Catherine Coleman Flowers, they have created this questionnaire to investigate how widespread this problem is. The project will investigate how many people in America do not have access to sanitation and sewage services – a problem endemic to many poorer communities and communities of color that has never been properly documented.

TAKE THE QUESTIONNAIRE

In particular, they’re looking for examples of sewage problems in homes or communities; poorly functioning septic systems; or poorly operating municipal sewage systems. Entire communities are living with sewage flowing into yards or homes, with terrible consequences for their health, economic stability, and dignity. Yet there is no sustained national effort to tackle this problem. (The Guardian’s first story since launching this project, about the town of Centreville, Illinois, is here.)

We would love your help in circulating the questionnaire to your contacts – clergy, other faith leaders, community activists, and anyone you think would be willing to respond or to take the questionnaire to their networks. The Guardian and CREEJ would also like to hear from you directly if you have experience with these issues, or familiarity with a community that you think they should look into.

If you have questions, suggestions, or ideas, please reach out to [email protected]. Thank you so much for taking the time to spread the word. It’s our hope that by exposing the scope of this issue, we’ll be able to catalyze efforts to address it.

The Stench of American Neglect

by Caroline Fraser for The New York Review

In her new book, the activist Catherine Coleman Flowers chronicles her efforts to expose criminally deficient sanitation in her home county of Lowndes, Alabama and around the US.

February 25, 2021 issue

In 1941 Walker Evans, a photographer, and James Agee, a journalist for Time and Fortune magazines, published Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, their idiosyncratic Depression-era volume of photographs and reporting about a 1936 trip to Alabama’s so-called Black Belt, a region that was, as Booker T. Washington had pronounced, “distinguished by the colour of the soil.” The book would eventually become one of the most famous nonfiction accounts of poverty in American history, comparable in influence to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. In it, Agee yearned to forswear words entirely in favor of the essential stuff of life:

If I could do it, I’d do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth…phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement…. A piece of the body torn out by the roots might be more to the point.

The book was devoted almost entirely to the lives of white sharecropping families. Evans’s unsparing images closely scrutinized every hollow stubbled cheek and watering eye, lingering on the slack, filthy folds of feed-sack dresses, half-naked children, and a woman’s bare bandaged foot. Agee, too, left nothing out, noticing a woman’s “manure-stained feet and legs,” saying the odors were “hard to get used to…hard to bear.” He rifled a family’s bureau drawers when they weren’t home, and his traumatized prose probed the calamitous housing, room by room: the broken windows stuffed with rags, the verminous bedding, the “privies” outfitted with “farmer’s toilet paper”—newspaper, pages from catalogs, or “corncobs, twigs, or leaves.”

Yet for all that scrutiny, a whole part of the region’s population went unobserved in Famous Men. Then as now, those rural counties of Alabama were also inhabited by Black farmers or sharecroppers who made up more than half of the people who lived there. Of dozens of photos in Famous Men, only a single one shows them: four Black men sitting in front of a barbershop. One Sunday morning, Agee, accompanied by a white landowner, was driven out to see the man’s Black foreman and tenants. Agee, who was from Tennessee, was anguished about the encounter, admitting that the landlord’s tenants “were negroes and no use to me”: Fortune magazine, which had originally assigned Evans and Agee to the story (and never published it), had requested that the article cover whites, not Blacks, whose “plight,” according to a later account, the magazine did not consider “newsworthy.”

Agee nonetheless recorded a menacing scene of the white landlord crudely commanding a group of Black men, dressed in Sunday clothes, to approach and sing for them, “to show us what nigger music is like.” Chagrined, Agee was “sick in the knowledge that they felt they were here at our demand.” Later, he approached a young Black couple on the road to ask about photographing a nearby church. Petrified by his intentions, the woman clenched her body like “a suddenly terrified wild animal.” Seeing her fearing for her life, he “wished to God I was dead.”

Fifty years later, Dale Maharidge, a journalist with The Sacramento Bee, returned to Agee’s families. Some of their descendants had prospered, yet many were still afflicted by poverty and illness, living in mobile homes. His 1989 volume, And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”: James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South, accompanied by a new series of photos by Michael Williamson, won a Pulitzer Prize, sticking fairly close to the three white families Agee had written about. Among the grimmest living conditions Maharidge found were those of the widow of a man who had been one of the naked boys in Evans’s photographs. Her home was a shack she rented for $10 a month, with no running water or electricity. He commented:

In thousands of miles of travel across the rural South, blacks were often found occupying such dwellings; it’s rare to find whites in such “little country homes,” the preferred euphemism when whites occupy them.

Maharidge did locate the Black community of Parson’s Cove, “at a point on the map that seems as far from anywhere as any visitor to Alabama should be,” and spent time with Frank Gaines and his family. They were “landlocked by white landowners on all sides” who were still refusing to sell land to Blacks. Maharidge, who is white, alluded in broad strokes to the Gaineses’ housing—a few hot rooms illuminated by bare bulbs, walls insulated “with cardboard and newspaper.” Water was piped from a spring; nothing was said about sanitation. The writer admitted that he found it hard to penetrate the deep mistrust, or even to start conversations in Parson’s Cove, “one of the blackest places in Alabama.”

Now, decades after Agee and Maharidge, a Black writer is telling the story of the Black Belt. Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up there, and her new book, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, contains no photographs, but it doesn’t need any. It deals directly in images as redolent as Agee’s clods of earth and phials of odors. The “dirty secret” Flowers urges readers to confront is the racial and economic injustice of rural American subsistence, including but not limited to the South, and the degradation it entails. She chronicles the lives of friends and neighbors coping with criminally deficient housing and a lack of sanitation so horrific that raw sewage bubbles up in sinks and toilets, floods the floors of run-down and collapsing trailers, and lies reeking in backyards and lagoons. She widens her gaze to take in similar crises from California to Florida and beyond, but she begins in her own backyard.

Read on…