Category: Environmental Justice

Climate Equity and Inclusion

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.

About the Author

Catherine Coleman Flowers the author of the book entitled Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, the Rural Development Manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, founder and director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Practitioner in Residence at Duke University, and board member of Climate Reality Project. Inspired by her daughter and grandson, her goal is to create a Green world that will benefit seven generations to come.

Catherine is the Center for Earth Ethics Senior Fellow for Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement. Learn More about Catherine’s work

Catherine Flowers recognized among Black Climate Scientists & Scholars “Changing the World”

Excerpts from “The Black Climate Scientists and Scholars Changing the World” by Read the Full Article on Green Matters.

That also means the environmental movement has so much to gain by listening to voices of color in the climate space. There are numerous brilliant Black scientists and scholars in the climate movement; we’ve highlighted just a few of them below, including quotes from each of them about the connections between climate justice and racial justice. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a starting point for learning about some of the Black scientists and scholars using climate science to make the world a better place.

Keep reading to learn about six Black scientists and scholars who have made indelible marks on the journey to climate justice…

Catherine Coleman Flowers is the founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ), founder of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Community Development Corporation (ACRE), a member of the Board of Directors for the Climate Reality Project, the Rural Development Manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, and a Senior Fellow for the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, according to the Center for Earth Ethics.

Her work largely focuses on finding solutions to the water and sanitation crises in poor rural communities across the U.S. — a topic she detailed in her book Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, set to be released on Nov. 17, 2020.

If you are looking for ways to donate your time or money to Black Lives Matter and other antiracist organizations, we have created a list of resources to get you started.

Read more on Green Matters

Catherine Coleman Flowers appointed to ‘Unity’ Task Force on Climate Change

Moved by a visit to Lowndes County, Alabama, Bernie Sanders has appointed Catherine Coleman Flowers, Founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ) and CEE Fellow on Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement to the ‘Unity’ Task Force on Climate Change. Flowers has been shining a spotlight for years on conditions of abject poverty in southern states where neglect of poor people, largely communities of color, has led to a sanitation nightmare and the return of diseases long thought eradicated from the United States. She will serve alongside task force members selected by both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders to inform policy making discussions in preparation for the 2020 presidential election in November.

In addition to her work through CREEJ and at the Center for Earth Ethics, Catherine serves as the Rural Development Manager for the Equal Justice Initiative. Her first book, WASTE: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret will also be available in November.

Read a full list of Climate Task Force appointees below.

Read a summary of all the task force news at Vox.

Biden’s appointees:

  • Former Secretary of State John Kerry, task force co-chair
  • Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
  • Kerry Duggan, former deputy director for policy to Vice President Biden
  • Former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy
  • Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA), member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and co-founder of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Congressional Task Force

Sanders’s appointees:

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), task force co-chair and co-author of the Green New Deal resolution
  • Varshini Prakash, co-founder of youth activist group Sunrise Movement
  • Catherine Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice

Catherine Coleman Flowers: A Rosa Parks Day “Catalyst for Change”

At the Rosa Parks Commemoration in Huntsville, AL guest speaker Catherine Coleman Flowers, CEE’s Senior Fellow, spoke on how Environmental Justice and Climate Change are Civil Rights issues. Catherine was among those honored as a “Catalyst for Change” including the youth winners of the “I am Rosa Parks” essay contest.

The Commemoration was celebrated over many days and included the keeping open of the first seat on every bus, voter registration hours and the Declaration of Rosa Parks Day – December 2nd. Visit the Rosa Parks Day Huntsville/Madison County facebook page for more photos and videos from the event!

Watch Video of Catherine speaking at the event with many thanks to the League of Women Voters of the Tennessee Valley.

Read the Transcript below:

“The environmental issues are human and civil rights issues because there primarily – you see the people on the front lines are people of color, are people that are marginalized.  I had the opportunity to go West Virginia and I saw in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee I saw white people there reminded me of people in Lowndes County – they were poor.  Some of them were still using outhouses and that was recently.  That was part of the new Poor Peoples Campaign.

I had the opportunity to go down to Cancer Alley which is between New Orleans and Baton Rouge where multi-national corporations were allowed to come to the United States and poison the air and poison the water.

and on the way there I was riding with the General some of you know, who became well known because of Katrina, General Russell Honoré who is now an environmental activist.

and General Honoré was taking us there. We passed by plantations and sugar cane fields that were out there and these home were inhabited by people that were descendants of former slaves and they have some of the highest cancer rates in the country.

and if you go to East L.A. and find out where they are putting these oil rigs, they’re not putting the oil rigs where these wealthy homes are burning up every time there’s fires in California cause they’re dealing with issues too but they’re doing that because they can afford to be places where most people cannot afford to be and shouldn’t be there.

but in terms of East L.A. we see high asthma rates and a lot of illnesses associated with being near oil rigs.

It’s a human rights and a civil rights issue because that’s where these dirty plants are put, they are put in communities where people cannot speak for themselves because they are either poor, or they simply don’t care because they are people of color.

The reason that we should all be concerned about it – look at the movie Dark Waters. That community that DuPont poisoned was white.  It’s getting to the point now we have people in office that don’t care about environmental protection rules and after awhile it’s not going to stop –

Water doesn’t stay in one place – it moves!

And we’re seeing fishkills here in Alabama.  We’re seeing – I saw one story where in south Alabama divers were in Mobile Bay doing something there in the Mobile Bay and had to move to another area because the water’s contaminated.

I just shared an article on Facebook where on military bases now the water is contaminated.  I mean we have to all be concerned because if you don’t care about it being in Cancer Alley, if you don’t care about it being in Lowndes County, or the Mercury that’s poison, Uranium poisoning people in Navajo nation sooner or later if there are no rules in place we are all going to be suffering because we only have one world.  And I’d like to segue into something if I might.

It’s that one of the other issues that I’m very involved in is Climate Change.

The people that are suffering right now that are on the front lines are the poorest communities. In the black belt for an example, I know that Daniel Tate is here in the audience.

Daniel Tate, I know I’m getting ready to say something very unpopular, it’s something that we all need to be aware of.  All over the state of Alabama we have more sunshine than anywhere else but we have a tax on solar in this state that needs to be removed. (Read Catherine’s Op-Ed in the Montgomery Advertiser) People should have the right to control what they would put on their homes and they should be able to generate their own power.

And if we don’t do that, if we don’t switch to renewable energies and have a Green New Deal we are all going to suffer.

I think it’s ok for us to reflect and talk about the past, but I’m concerned about 7 generations to come. We keep doing what we’re doing right now and the Earth will not be able to be inhabitable by our great great great grandchildren and I’m very concerned about that.

We’re not a point in our lives right now where we can say “oh that’s happening in Lowndes County so I don’t care about that.”  We need to be concerned.

And if Jane Fonda who is on my board can get our there every Friday for #FireDrillFridays at the age of 82 because she has a 3 month old grandson… She’s concerned about her grandson’s future. I think we all need to take a stand

It shouldn’t just be the children – the child have always lead but it’s time for us to lead too and get out there and make sure that we become servant leaders.

And that we also make sure… my grandson about to graduate from Troy University about to graduate in Resource Management.

We have be concerned about 7 generations to come.”

Also read Catherine’s Op-Ed Alabama Voices: Two million Americans are in a water crisis; some of them are your neighbors.

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Catherine Coleman Flowers

Catherine Coleman Flowers is Senior Fellow of Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement at the Center for Earth Ethics as well as the director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice.

Learn More about Catherine’s work…

 

Catherine Flowers Op-Ed for Alabama Voices: Give Alabamians the freedom of solar choice

Catherine Coleman Flowers – Special to the Advertiser

Photo: Solar panels on Ireland Farms in Alpine, Ala., are seen on Wednesday September 25, 2019. Mickey Welsh / Advertiser

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Imagine if every time you picked a peach off of your backyard tree, the government slapped you with a $10 tax – artificially increasing the price of your own fruit and driving you to buy grocery store peaches instead.

Well, that’s exactly the situation we face with electricity in Alabama.

Every Alabamian could make their own electricity cheaper and cleaner by putting solar on their roof. But Alabama Power has other ideas and insists on dumping a fee on solar users. And not a small fee either. It is a fee that could amount to $9,000 over the life of the system.

Such a fee punishes those that want to generate their own electricity, maintaining the company’s monopoly and keeping Alabamians locked into its services. Not only is it wrong to stifle Alabamians’ energy choices and what we do with our own roofs, but it’s also choking job creation in the state and hurting working families.

The Alabama Public Service Commission has the opportunity to eliminate these excessive fees – and they need to know that it’s what Alabamians want.

Alabama is number one – or at least running neck and neck with South Carolina – for the highest residential and commercial electricity rates in the region. Every month we pay more for our electricity, but we don’t have the option of generating our own electricity. This is a monopoly and it is un-American. Working families and small businesses deserve a more affordable choice.

But this fight isn’t just about the costs we all pay for our energy – it’s also about the health of our families. About one fifth of our electricity comes from dirty coal plants that spew unhealthy amounts of particulate matter, ozone and other pollution into the air we breathe. This pollution not only causes lung disease, including asthma and lung cancer, but has also helped make Birmingham the 14th most polluted city for particulate matter in the nation.

Most of all, this fight is about justice, environmental justice. First of all, this toxic air pollution doesn’t impact everyone equally.  African American Alabamians endure roughly twice the particulate matter air pollution that white Alabamians do. Second, as temperatures rise and cities swelter thanks to climate change, it’s the poor and people of color who suffer the most.

By turning from coal to clean energy like solar, we can not only clean up the air we breathe, but also help solve the climate crisis making our summers even hotter and threatening our families. Eliminating onerous solar fees is an important first step.

Now some will say that solar is really only for the rich.  But that isn’t the case in states that don’t have anti-solar policies.  In most of the country, people can lease solar panels and save money on their utility bills on day one, all without having to put any money down up front.

In Alabama, solar fees eliminate that savings. Worse, Alabama Power even claims it is illegal to lease solar panels. It’s time working-class Alabamians had the same opportunity to have cleaner, cheaper electricity that most other Americans enjoy.

Alabama Power parent company, Southern Company, also operates in Mississippi and Georgia, where it also proposed ways to make home solar unaffordable. Georgia, however, rejected a solar fee in 2013 and in Mississippi home solar owners fought back a Southern Company effort to block their ability to sell electricity back to the grid. As a result, Mississippi has 25% more solar jobs than Alabama and Georgia has 6 times more solar jobs than we do here. We should take heart from these victories and know that solar can win in Alabama as well.

In Alabama, we love competition. We love doing things ourselves, our way. Now it’s time for the Alabama Public Service Commission to open the state up for real competition on energy by getting rid of these fees. It’s time for the commission to let working Alabamians take control of their energy and generate their own electricity.

If you agree, please call Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh at (334) 242-5297 and tell her to get these fees off your roof.

Catherine Coleman Flowers

 

Catherine Coleman Flowers is Senior Fellow of Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement at the Center for Earth Ethics as well as the director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice.

Learn More about Catherine’s work…

Alabama Voices: Two million Americans are in a water crisis; some of them are your neighbors

Catherine Flowers and George McGraw – Special to the Advertiser

Originally Published 9:00 AM EST Nov 22, 2019 to the Montgomery Advertiser

Scenes from Lowndes County, where only 20 percent of homes are connected to sewer systems.

In the Black Belt running through Alabama and Mississippi, the dark, clay soil that gives the area its name is notorious for causing water woes.

Rainwater pools on the ground, because it can’t penetrate the dense soil.  So does sewage.

In Bibb County, for instance, municipal wastewater is pumped into a lagoon where it should evaporate. When it rains, that wastewater overflows from the lagoon into people’s yards, spreading disease and smelling horribly.

In Lowndes County, only 20 percent of homes are connected to sewer systems.

But Bibb and Lowndes aren’t the only area in the Rural South – or the country – struggling to access reliable water and sanitation.

Recently two national non-profits, DIGDEEP and the US Water Alliance, released the first-ever report that pulls back the veil on America’s hidden water crisis. The report researchers visited Black Belt counties in Alabama and Mississippi, and five other regions across the US facing severe water access issues: the Four Corners area of the Southwest, the Central Valley of California, the Texas colonias, rural Appalachia, and Puerto Rico.

The report found something heartbreaking: there are at least two million Americans without hot and cold running water, a tap, shower, a working toilet, or basic wastewater service in their homes. That’s two million Americans who don’t have water to drink and cook with, or who have a toilet that simply empties through a PVC pipe into a puddle of sewage in their yard (if they have one at all).

This lack of basic water and sanitation access is causing a public health crisis. People repeatedly exposed to raw sewage are at greater risk for acute and long-term illness. Diseases once eradicated are resurfacing. A peer-reviewed study of residents in Lowndes County found 34.5 percent of participants tested positive for hookworm and other tropical parasites.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing uncovered by our research is that some parts of the country are actually going backwards. From 2000 to 2014 (the period with the last complete census data set) six states – Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Dakota – and Puerto Rico all saw increases in their populations without water and sanitation access.

This crisis affects Americans, who because of circumstances beyond their control, including geography, poverty, and discrimination, are unable to enjoy the same working taps and toilets most of us take for granted. The challenges vary by region and place. But across the country one thing holds true: this is a tremendous, invisible problem that our neighbors are often too ashamed to talk about. It is time to end the stigma and address it head-on.

First, America must begin measuring the water access gap. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Previously, the Census Bureau asked whether homes had a working flush toilet, but recently removed the question. One of our simplest recommendations in the new report is for census to revamp the question on complete plumbing access to again include toilets, and add questions on wastewater services, water quality, and cost.

Second, federal, state and local government need to reimagine outdated water regulations that don’t account for the extreme circumstances some Americans are living in. They need to dramatically increase and restructure funding to help these families and their communities build systems that work for them – especially in remote locations where traditional, centralized infrastructure may be impossible.

Finally, we need to support local organizations doing the hard work of bringing clean water to their neighbors right now. The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice and the Mississippi Worker’s Center for Human Rights are two of those organizations. Operating in Alabama, the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice documents poverty and environmental crises, and works with affected communities to develop local solutions. The Mississippi Worker’s Center for Human Rights creates safer and healthier workplace conditions, including water access and sanitation, through education and training. The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice seeks to improve access to clean air, water, and soil in marginalized rural communities by influencing policy, inspiring innovation, catalyzing relevant research, and amplifying the voices of community leaders, all within the context of a changing climate.

Solving this crisis is the right thing to do. To turn a blind eye to the suffering of millions is to deny their dignity. Fortunately, we are a resilient and creative nation, and with the right focus, resources, and partnerships we can close this water access gap in our lifetimes.

To read the full report and support groups like The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice and Mississippi Worker’s Center for Human Rights, visit www.closethewatergap.org.

 

Catherine Coleman Flowers

 

Catherine Coleman Flowers is Senior Fellow of Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement at the Center for Earth Ethics as well as the director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice.

Learn More about Catherine’s work…

 

 

 

George McGraw is CEO of DIGDEEP. 

Learn More…

 

 

Heber Brown III | Facebook | Fair Use

On Faith and Food Disparities

 

Last week, Rev. Dr. Heber Brown joined the webinar series CEE hosts with the Climate Reality Project. 

Through the work at his church, Pleasant Hope Baptist, and the organization he founded, the Black Church Food Security Network, He and his congregation are attempting to unravel the strangle hold Food Apartheid Zones – more commonly know as Food Deserts – have on black and brown communities throughout Baltimore and around the country. The semantics between Food Desert and Food Apartheids is important. A desert, as Rev. Brown relays, is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Their being is necessary to the vitality of creation as a whole and foster life found nowhere else.

There is nothing natural about apartheid. By definition, apartheid is “a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race” that is intended to harm or disadvantage an entire population. What we see with Food Apartheid are entire communities shut off from healthy, life sustaining foods. It is a conscious decision by grocery chains not to open stores in these locations because they don’t believe the communities will support their profit margins, think them too dangerous, or even that the communities wouldn’t know what to do with the fruits and veggies even if they were made available. Within this are layers of discrimination and racism that form a boot of oppression not easily lifted.

In this webinar, Rev. Brown helps unravel the history of  Food Apartheids, the misinformation that surround them, and actions that communities can take to reclaim power of their own food systems.

David Beats Goliath: Update on Louisiana Pipelines & Cancer Alley

After a sweltering summertime march to draw attention to the high death rates of now infamously titled Cancer Alley, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade has put out the Press Release below.

A March Through Heat, Felony Threats, and Pollution Brings Louisiana’s Cancer Alley to Governor’s Attention – DeSmogBlog

The Guardian’s Series of Reports on Cancer Alley

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PRESS RELEASE | FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                               

September 6, 2019​

David Beats Goliath
Wanhua Chemical Withdraws Project in St. James Parish
Victory for grassroots groups standing up for health and property values

(Convent, Louisiana) — In capitulation to the power of local opposition, Wanhua Chemical has formally withdrawn its land use application to build a $1 billion dollar facility in St. James Parish. Opponents’ appeal and law suit slowed the project, making the Chinese owned company vulnerable to economic changes and additional scrutiny.  “This is a victory for all of us in St. James Parish,” said Sharon Lavigne, President of RISE St. James, a group that has long opposed construction on grounds that it would endanger parish residents and reduce property values. “We aren’t just going to sit back and accept that it’s open season for industry to build in St. James Parish. We are ready to fight, and next up is Formosa.”

Legal challenges to the Wanhua project – including an appeal of the land use decision and an open meetings law suit – were filed by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of clients Genevieve Butler, Pastor Harry Joseph and the organizations RISE St. James and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.  “I’m glad that Wanhua is gone,” said Pastor Joseph. “They were coming with all kind of sneakiness and our parish might have been in trouble. I am glad that the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic gave the Parish Council an idea of some of the problems. We don’t have to worry about Wanhua and hopefully with Formosa, they will withdraw their plans.”

The project raised concerns about the proposed emissions in the parish. “I am happy with these results,” said Eve Butler, a resident of St. James. “We hope that before anything else is let in we can have an environmental impact statement in the parish.”

Wanhua had requested help with tariff exemptions from Senator Bill Cassidy, whose office had ongoing communication with Wanhua representatives. Wanhua’s announcement today came after months of doublespeak by company representatives. The company now plans to build its facility in a different part of the U.S., contradicting its public claim that tariffs were the reason for cancelling the project. Company reports also showed that Wanhua is owned by the Chinese government despite statements to the parish government denying that fact. The company’s promise of local jobs was belied by job ads requiring residence in Houston and Baton Rouge. “St. James Parish officials were told half-truths and evasions by a big foreign company that wanted to come here and use our state as its dumping ground,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “It was ordinary people who spotted the bad deal and stopped it. Today Wanhua, tomorrow Formosa.”

In June, the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic filed the appeal of the parish planning commission’s approval of Wanhua. The project crumbled during the delay, after the Parish Council voted unanimously on the appeal to remand the approval back to the Planning Commission. In the appeal, the petitioners opposed construction of Wanhua because of the hazardous air pollutants, the unfair concentration of polluting industry in the parish’s African American districts and the resulting destruction of property values. Wanhua planned to have the chemical phosgene on site, a toxic substance used for chemical warfare in World War I and for which there is no safe level of exposure. Tariff exemptions were critical to the project, as Wanhua planned to build most of the facility in China and import it and assemble it in St. James.

Today’s announcement came as welcome news to Wanhua’s nearest neighbors. “My great-great-great-great grandmother came out of slavery and bought my family’s land,” said Barbara Washington of RISE whose home is near the proposed site. “Our hard work has paid off. We will not stop til all those industries who want to come in here change their plans. We are tired of being sick. We refuse to be sick anymore. Don’t even try to come into St. James. We will not allow it.”

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RISE St. James is a faith based organization fighting for the removal of harmful petrochemicals in the land, air, water and bodies, of the people, of St. James Parish.

Louisiana Bucket Brigade uses grassroots action to support communities impacted by the petrochemical industry and hasten the transition from fossil fuels.


Get Involved! Contact: 

Anne Rolfes, Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, [email protected]

Eve Butler, St. James resident
Sharon Lavigne, President, RISE St. James
Barbara Washington, RISE St. James and Wanhua neighbor

Karenna Gore on the Intersection of Faith, Climate Change, and Social Justice

Originally Published by State of the Planet, Earth Institute at Columbia University

September 25, 2019

By Jeff Berardelli

For the past five years Karenna Gore, age 46, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore, has been working in the family business of climate change. While that may seem an obvious course, given her father’s prominence in the space, the path that led her there, and the methods she is employing to tackle the challenge of climate change, make up her own unique story.

After attending Harvard College, Columbia Law School and working for many years in child justice organizations, Karenna Gore went back to school in 2011, attending Union Theological Seminary.

Affiliated with Columbia University, Union is a historic-looking complex in Morningside Heights, Manhattan. Founded in 1836 by Presbyterian ministers, the vision was to respond to the growing urban social needs of the day with a mix of academics and faith. Today, Union is a training ground for progressive Christian academics, whose community embraces other faith traditions and works on inter-religious engagement and social justice.

Karenna Gore speaks at a rally protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline

Karenna Gore speaks at a rally protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Gore is the director of the Center for Earth Ethics, which works to support the well-being of all people and the planet. Photo courtesy Karenna Gore

Gore received her M.A. in Social Ethics in 2013 and stayed, founding the Center for Earth Ethics that same year, on the Union Campus. That is where I met her, at her office space located on the top floor of a majestic Gothic tower.

Gore informally greeted me at the office door, dressed business casual with none of the pomp and circumstance one may envision from such a high-profile figure. She seemed enthusiastic to take me for a short tour of the center she built. It was promptly followed by our interview, wherein she explained why climate change is a moral issue, how her group is galvanizing faith-based activism, and more.

I’m curious, what it’s like getting into the family business? How did you find your own your own voice within that?

I didn’t intend to go into doing climate change work, in part because I just didn’t want to be tagging along with my dad or riding his coat tails.

However, when I got my degree here at Union I just was in a time and a place when I was literally called into this work by the fact that I was here. I felt like I was called to the work. I can say that I did not plan it.

I respect my father a lot and in many ways it’s wonderful to be able to work with him. I would have resisted doing that more if it weren’t for the fact that this is such a compelling issue and I felt like I was in the place and the time to do something about it. And I honestly think that if we are going to confront this in a way that makes a significant difference in the trajectory that we are on now, I think everyone has to give whatever they can.

What was your goal in starting the Center for Earth Ethics?

As we were exploring reframing climate change as a moral issue in galvanizing faith-based activism about it, we also explored deeply the root causes, as we saw them, of the crisis that we’re in and we discovered that it’s really two root causes. One is this illusion that we are separate and superior to the whole rest of nature. The other root cause is the development paradigm/ economic growth paradigm — the way that we measure successful societies.

“I honestly think that if we are going to confront this in a way that makes a significant difference … everyone has to give whatever they can.”

Right now we have a value system reflected in economics, reflected in political dialogue that is very short-term, that doesn’t pay attention to the externalities of pollution and destruction of nature, nor does it pay attention to inequality, and so what we have is a result of that.

The Center for Earth Ethics was founded to make the changes in policy and culture that are necessary to change to a value system based on long-term well-being of all life.

How do you go about accomplishing the mission of the center? What would a typical day or a typical event look like?

During the academic year, the center works with Union students (seminarians), so during a typical weekday, I might meet with one of our Field Education students about their ongoing projects, co-teach a class like: Indigenous Voices on Colonization; Ecology and Spirituality; Beyond GDP; Religion and Climate Change; and Plant Wisdom and Interreligious Dialogue or plan curriculum for an upcoming course offering.

Sometimes I speak in public venues such as local churches or schools. Recently I spoke at the United Nations and moderated a panel at the Council on Foreign Relations.

I also often participate in organizing work to plan events or actions, such as those involving resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure projects.

What do you view as the fundamental problem that’s causing Earth’s destruction?

I think it’s a problem of value systems. I think that we’re living with the illusion that the things like the stock market reflect reality when in fact they don’t reflect anything about the value of the natural world… and it takes absolutely no account of whether we have completely depleted our natural resources or whether we’ve pumped all this pollution into the air.

There’s been a philosophy that has really risen up known as neoliberalism, which is really about elevating public-private partnerships and making a business model the kind of ideal for the government…. It’s not actually working out that well because government is different than business, you know, it’s not all about efficiency. It’s about taking care of people who are vulnerable. So as long as we have people who want our government to be run more like a business … then we’re going to be even more in this situation.

I listened to an interview you did and I’m going to paraphrase here… You said, “This [climate change] is a moment we were chosen for or that chose us — nothing happens by accident. So, I’m curious what you believe about the way the universe works?

I do believe in a greater intelligence — that there are forces greater than ourselves and that there is an intelligence in the universe that, if you are open to it, will open some doors and guide and show you a way.

karenna gore with chief ninawa

(Gore with Chief Ninawa of the Huni Kui people of the Brazilian Amazon. Photo courtesy Karenna Gore)

It’s a matter of personal experience, it’s not even so much belief, but when you have a few of those personal experiences where you just think, “Ah what are the chances that this would happen?” And it usually happens in the cases of being more open-hearted, more open-minded and being deeply grounded in a purpose that is greater than yourself.

When I say nothing happens by accident and that we’re called to these times, I think that’s really a statement of faith — that we have what it takes, that people are called together, that we can feel an element of grace in it or opportunity. It doesn’t have to feel just tragic.

I think people may be interested in how you practice religion? If you arecomfortable can you elaborate? 

I do not really feel comfortable talking about my personal spiritual/religious life in detail but I definitely have one and it is very important to me. I was raised Baptist, going to church every Sunday. I am happy to have had that foundation and also happy to have experienced and studied other traditions that have opened my perception and renewed my faith.

What is your opinion of Evangelical pushback on climate change?

I think it is important to be careful how we use the term “Evangelical” because it has come to denote a group that is more defined by their political affiliation than their theology. There is a long tradition of interpreting scripture in order to validate domination over nature and non-white peoples and I think the group of white evangelicals that deny the climate crisis is within that tradition. It is entirely irrational as well as immoral but it has deep roots and can be disguised as a kind of mandate to mankind to master and control the Earth by digging and burning the carbon stored in the ground.

It would be great if they came around and there is powerful work being done to facilitate that.

Do you have hope that we’re going to solve this?

Um … That’s such a hard question … [Deep breath and extended contemplation] … I have hope that we are going to make it less horrific then it could be. And I have hope that we might become better as a people and a species in the process, in ways that are really uplifting and kind of what life is all about. Those are the two things I can say about my hope. I do think that hope is different than optimism in an important way, that even if there’s a tiny sliver of light, you know, it doesn’t mean you think things are going great or you’re sure it’ll work out. It means there’s a chance. And you’re going to cling to that — you’re going to hold on to it.

Jeff Berardelli is a long-time TV meteorologist and climate contributor for CBS News in New York City. His work on at CBS News ranges from on-air weather to contributing to broadcast climate stories to writing articles for CBSNews.com. He is currently finishing up an MA in Climate and Society at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. He is most interested in communicating climate change challenges to a broad audience with the hopes of educating the public and improving awareness.

CEE Announces new affiliation with the Earth Institute at Columbia University beginning October 2019

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CEE’s Karenna Gore speaks with Dean Kelly Brown Douglas of EDS at Union Theological Seminary

“When we bring together reason with our values a vision will evolve for the good of the whole.” – Karenna Gore

Dean Kelly Brown Douglas of Episcopal Divinity School speaks with Karenna Gore, Director of Union’s Center for Earth Ethics. They discuss the moral dimensions of our ecological crisis, how environmental issues are playing out in the presidential primary, and Karenna’s recent New York Times op-ed.  Full video and excerpted transcript below.

Climate Justice with Karenna Gore

Dean Kelly Brown Douglas speaks with Karenna Gore, Director of Union's Center for Earth Ethics. They discuss the moral dimensions of our ecological crisis, how environmental issues are playing out in the presidential primary, and Karenna's recent New York Times op-ed.The Center for Earth Ethics is an institute at Union Theological Seminary that envisions a world where value is measured according to the sustained well-being of all people and our planet. Learn more at their website www.centerforearthethics.org/

Posted by Episcopal Divinity School at Union on Thursday, September 12, 2019

 

Excerpts:

KBD: “What we have to appreciate is that this is not a crisis that just emerged overnight for no reason. The roots of this are deep. And when we talk about the oppressions of people, the subjugations of people, the subjugations of the earth this is all the fruit of the same poisonous tree, right?  Or the same poisonous root. That goes deeply back into our traditions, into our religious traditions and into Christianity.

We are living in a time and a culture where people refuse to recognize that there is a problem, and that there’s a crisis.  And I’ve heard you speak about that before as an addiction.”

On Addiction to Fossil Fuels

KG: “Many people have experienced addiction or are close to people who have experienced addiction and it is instructive about the limits of human nature or the ways in which – how – the idea that we would self-destruct as a species – because that is what is happening in slow motion – ”

KBD: “That’s right.”

KG: “- is not logical.  But nor is it logical that someone would be so hooked on something that is causing them so much damage but they can’t quite see it.  Until, or in many cases it comes to hitting rock bottom, in many cases people say it comes to turning to a higher power. Those are instructive stories I think in a way of understanding what we’re seeing now because a lot of people are looking and watching because the see climate impacts now.  The amazon is on fire, polar ice caps are melting, we’re losing species…”

KBD:  “60% of, I understand, the animal species has been degraded?”

KG: “Yes. So the question is, how much, is a similar question as an addict might face.  How much more damage do you want to do?

I think most of us have the feeling we will turn away from fossil fuels – or we’ll die.  And it’s not just a feeling, it’s what the body of scientists in the IPCC tell us.”

“We’re on track for about 7-9 degree Fahrenheit warming by the year 2100.  What that means, of course, are tipping points that we don’t totally understand. Many people criticize them (scientists) for being overly conservative it their estimates because they can’t exactly what happens when all the ice melts.  The Gulf Stream is changing.  We know that there are many things in place that would start to make large portions of this earth uninhabitable and the strife involved in that, the widespread suffering involved in that  – is unimaginable.  So if we’re on the road that kind of destruction, at what point can we decide – we’d like to stop now – let’s just try to stop now as opposed to doing more and more damage.  And I think the analogy to addiction is very important.”

On the role of Faith in the Climate Crisis: Prophetic and Pastoral

“There are three concepts to think about Place, Time, and Being in which, you know, we as individuals, we are asked to think about in our discourse, we as individuals we are asked to be consumers, we are asked to think about consumer choices.  We are asked to think about our belonging to different races, or genders, or denominations but to belong to a place and a time is also part of understanding what’s happening now. And that –

When you look at the scale and the pace of the ecological destruction we are living right now – it’s overwhelming.

And our own sense of what our agency is – it’s overwhelming.

And I believe it is going to come from leaders, faith leaders – and I say that in a broad way. If you are a counselor in a community center, if you’re an indigenous keeper of traditions, these are all forms of ministry.  But this is what is called for, those types of skills to help people through this time.”  – Karenna Gore

Values of Faith, Examining Social and Ecological Injustice

KBD: “Part of the work that you do at the Center for Earth Ethics is in fact to lift up faith values, religious values and how they inform, how we indeed should engage with the rest of creation and the kind of relationship we should have to the earth, and all that there is therein.  The Center for Earth Ethics in many ways focuses on this as a moral issue, as a faith issue. I’ve attended a couple of the programs with the Center for Earth Ethics and I’ve always walked away more informed.  And I’ve walked away inspired by the many faith traditions and the ways in which those traditions compel us into a caring relationship with our environment and with the earth. I also walk away wondering, and I want to ask you, what are the ways in which our faith traditions and religious traditions have been an impediment to our care for the earth?

KG: “Very important question.  I think we have to look clearly and honestly at that.  And I know in your work you have done that with regard to white supremacy, the ties of colonization, genocide and slavery to the form of Christianity that was really about Empire and expansion and extraction.  So I believe a lot of what is seen as secular including the economic growth construct as it is currently presented is actually highly charge, with almost and actually Rev Barber talks about the ‘culted commitment to greed’.

It’s only a kind of fanaticism that would’ve gotten us to this point.  It is not reason. It is not logic. And so I believe that we can look clearly at a couple of specific examples in this conversation.  One is the idea of separation of humanity and the rest of the natural world. So you have the concept of dominion from Genesis. You have the concept of imago dei, we are made in the image of God. These two things together are quite easily distorted to mean that we are God, and we get to dominate everything and in fact God says we should and given us all of this to dominate. So of course there’s a fair amount of work done on this and I won’t go into it too much except to say that there’s great theology there’s eco-feminism, there’s eco-womanism, there are many people who have worked on this.

When you have a concept like ‘stewardship’ used by people like Scott Pruitt the former head of the EPA who professes, evangelical Christian faith, and says stewardship means continuing to dig and burn fossil fuels – where does that come from? And it comes, it actually, I think we have to be quite honest there has been a tradition laid, and it is the same one that laid white supremacy.  So the separation of humanity and nature and of course, you’ve written so beautifully about this in your book Stand Your Ground, about how this unfolded doctrinally and of course, you know, there were the doctrine of discovery and this was the whole premise for Europeans to come to this land was a set of religious documents, that claimed authority from the Bible to conquer vanquish and subdue all non-Christian peoples.  And non-Christian people at the time in the Americas and Africa was any people of, indigenous peoples and so that has been played out and is very much alive and with us today.

So this is work of unraveling and detoxifying what has been done to lay that foundation is critically important in the leadership from within people of faith from within Episcopal Divinity School, from yourself, from the many people of faith who are actively claiming the best of those traditions, the scripture in its sacred meaning and explaining where it has been distorted and how we can move on I think is absolutely essential.

KBD:  “You’re precisely right and the insight and bringing together the way in which systems dominate and exploit people, it’s the same construct that allows for the domination and exploitation of our environment and the rest of creation.  And so, there is this intrinsic and inextricable link between white supremacist narratives and the narratives that have placed us in this position of destroying the environment and the earth.  As we’ve destroyed people, we destroy the earth. And these are all to be seen as sacred creations of God and to look at the ways in which faith traditions have been complicit in that.”

KG: “One other thing I want to add, because I think it is interesting to look back even before the colonization of the Americas and introduction of the slave trade at what happened in Europe with the Roman Empire. There is this thesis from 1967 from a medieval historian named Lynn White called ‘The Roots of our Ecological Crisis’, it’s controversial, but what he said is that the victory of Christianity over paganism in Europe in the middle ages is what led to the mindset of commodification and objectification of nature in how it played out. 

It’s worth noting because there were indigenous traditions in Europe, as well. There were sacred rivers, there were prayers to sacred places and many women were keepers of those ceremonies and so all of that had to be obliterated in order for there to be an empire put into place. And because of the marriage of the Roman Empire and Christianity which we know from the conversion of Constantine – I think there’s a lot to that. An extraordinary turn of events to have someone take these symbols and turn it into its opposite and it’s the kind of thing that’s being done to us today in our politics in a very sinister way, as well.

From the conversion of Constantine… This rings true to me when I read that Lynne White thesis ‘The Roots of our Ecological Crisis’ and when I also read and actually what he doesn’t talk about is the burning of witches in Europe, the specific targeting of women spiritual leadership in that way… so it’s also an important thing to include when we are talking about the doctrine of discovery and the papal bulls because I think it’s a part of the same story.”

The Center for Earth Ethics is an institute at Union Theological Seminary that envisions a world where value is measured according to the sustained well-being of all people and our planet. Learn more at their website www.centerforearthethics.org