Category: Environmental Justice

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.”

Born Country but Raised an Activist: Catherine Coleman Flowers of the Biden Climate Task Force Uncovers “America’s Dirty Secret” n “Bloody Lowndes,” Alabama

By Sienna Zuco for Global Climate Pledge

“Because I’m country!”

Said Catherine Coleman Flowers when asked why she was passionate about working for rural communities as an environmental justice advocate.

Growing up in the “Black Belt” region of Alabama, which is known for its rich dark soil, Flowers fell in love with the environment that enveloped her.

“I just loved nature and going for walks in areas where most people wouldn’t walk and picking plums and eating them off the plum trees,” she remembered.

But the term “Black Belt” also points to the history of slavery in Alabama. So, not only was Flowers surrounded by nature growing up, but she also grew up in a place steeped in southern history.

“Bloody Lowndes” Beginnings

Flowers was born in Birmingham and raised in Lowndes County, Alabama of the rural southern United States. Lowndes County was commonly referred to as “Bloody Lowndes” due to its history of racism and violence. The county also connected Selma and Montgomery—two cities instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement. But Lowndes County was especially known for importing and distributing enslaved people in the state of Alabama in the 1800s.

“The founders of Lowndes County actually came from South Carolina, and they brought their slaves with them and a lot of slaves were sold into the area. And my family, my father’s family, were descendants of those slaves that were in Lowndes County,” said Flowers.

The county itself was named after the enslaver, plantation owner, and U.S. congressman William Lowndes of the deep south.

Flowers grew up with this backdrop of racism and slavery from Lowndes County’s past, but also within an atmosphere of activism and community as a child of the Civil Rights era.

Some may say Flowers was born to be an activist. “I had a lot of influence from my parents who were activists, as well as those people who were around or would come in contact with my family. And they helped me to develop a sense of community, and a sense of responsibility of being able to provide the best for that community,” she said.

While she may not have realized it at the time, her parents and those they interacted with played instrumental roles in the Civil Rights Movement. From seeing the work that her parents did, activism was ingrained in her at a young age.

“My parents were kind of like the jailhouse lawyers of the community, everybody went to them to ask for advice. They helped a lot of people; they did a lot of organizing. These are things that were just second nature. It wasn’t anything special to me because that was what I saw at the time,” she said.

The Racial Violence That Led to Flower’s Activism

In her teens, Flowers remembered a transformational experience which played an integral part in her becoming an activist.

John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, c. 1900

After her little brother was born at John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital, the same hospital which held the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis study, doctors purposefully sterilized her mother. Flowers noted this was something that not only happened to her mother, but other minority women at the hospital. Her mother went on to spend much of her life protecting other women from what had happened to her.

When the British Broadcasting Company, BBC, had come to interview her parents about their experience, Flowers learned of her own high school principal potentially being involved in the killing of a nine-year-old Black girl.

“There was a reporter who also anchored the NBC affiliate in Montgomery, he anchored the evening news, Black reporter, and he talked about my principal, and he said that my principal allegedly had been involved in the death of a young Black girl, nine years old,” said Flowers, “She was found with pajama bottoms wrapped around her neck and her body was found in a ditch. And [the news anchor] said that the principal allegedly was providing young Black girls to white men in Montgomery. And that struck me,” she explained.

At the age of 16, she became a Robert Kennedy Fellow and worked to get rid of both her principal and the superintendent of the schools successfully, helping to protect the futures of Black children in Lowndes County. As a Fellow, she continued to investigate into what should and should not be happening in schools in terms of children’s safety, such as what had happened in her own school district.

Becoming an Advocate for Her Community on Climate Change and Raw Sewage

In her adulthood, Flowers became a teacher and often used the Civil Rights Movement to inspire the younger generations she was teaching. From her own experience as a youth activist, Flowers believes young people have more power than they realize.

As a teacher, Flowers started realizing something was wrong. She felt the heat in cities like Washington, D.C. where she worked due to the heat island effect and started seeing animals from the south move to the north. She didn’t know what was happening until she watched “An Inconvenient Truth,” a documentary which discussed the horrors of climate change.

“When I saw the “Inconvenient Truth”, I was able to give it a name, and that was climate change,” she said, referring to the abnormal environmental problems she was witnessing.

Moving back to Alabama in 2000 to work on economic development in Lowndes County, Flowers began seeing wastewater issues in her own hometown. She would see pools of waste in people’s yards in the same places where kids would play. What was worse was that climate change was exacerbating these issues. But, the infrastructure to solve these problems for rural communities was almost nonexistent and proper wastewater management systems were blocked by an expensive paywall.

Flowers speaking to Duke University Students about exposed waste water

Flowers found that families were facing serious health problems as a result of the exposed waste. But she realized that doctors couldn’t provide a lot of solutions.

“Were there diseases that were manifesting in the U.S.? Because of climate change? I was alarmed because of the intersection of poverty, that American doctors were not trained to look for [these diseases] because they didn’t expect them to be here,” she wondered.

After partnering with the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Flowers and scientists worked together to find what was causing the mysterious health problems of Lowndes County residents.

Their study found that 34 percent of residents tested positive for hookworm, known as a disease of poverty, as a result of their exposure to raw sewage. The parasite is known to live in warm and moist climates and is especially common in places with poor sanitation.

Flowers discussed how many Americans do not realize the extent of poverty in the U.S. and how that results in poor sanitation and wastewater management. But, she struggled to show the true extent of the issue, which was rooted in systemic issues predominately impacting rural and impoverished communities.

“The biggest barrier, and keep in mind I’ve been doing this for at least 18 years, was helping people to understand and acknowledge that there was a wastewater problem in this country. That people do not have access to wastewater infrastructure. And it was not due to a personal failing. It was due to structures that were in place that prevented [access],” she explained.

Not only was Flowers angered, but she realized she had to do something about it. She asked herself, “If we can treat wastewater in outer space to drinking water quality, why can’t we do that here?”

Becoming a Leader for Rural Communities

Flowers soon founded the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, later reforming it into the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ). Addressing the intersections between environmental issues and poverty, CREEJ strives to create solutions that factor in the climate to solve wastewater management and infrastructure issues that are replicable elsewhere.

Flowers emphasizes that this problem is everywhere, “Everybody thinks it’s just Lowndes County. In the state of Alabama, it’s in all 67 counties. But, in just about every place in the United States, there is some problem, some form of wastewater issue,” she said.

Flowers with Al Gore and Cherri Foytlin

Even more so, she wanted to become a voice for her fellow rural Americans.

“The other problem that I had initially with this work is that people don’t understand rural communities and I still run into that where people just make certain assumptions,” she said, going on to explain that people don’t understand the nuances and differences between rural and urban communities.

Flowers often sees legislation lacking a rural perspective, despite one in five Americans living in rural areas, states the U.S. Census Bureau.

“I think oftentimes when policies are written to deal with infrastructure, even to deal with climate change, it mostly is from an urban perspective. It leaves out the lack of inclusive language to address rural communities,” she continued.

Becoming an Author and Inspiring Future Generations

From her life and her work as an environmental justice advocate, Flowers believed it was time for all to hear her own personal journey and encourage others to take action to build a better, greener, and more equitable future for all. So, she started writing a book last year on her experience. Set to come out this November, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret discusses how Flowers got to where she is today and why she chose to deal with the problems others chose to avoid, such as wastewater issues and climate change.

“I think part of the lesson I’ve learned is we can’t let people ignore it. If they ignore it, there will never be a fix,” she said.

Flowers wants her book to encourage others, especially youth, to take action.

“I want to inspire young people to carry on this fight without them having to start from square one. And the book documents my journey. By sharing it like that, it gives them an opportunity to see if they want to do this type of work, where they fit in, and how they can expand and to move it to the next level,” she explained

Through her book, Flowers hopes to become a source of inspiration for others just like many individuals had been one for her.

Hope for the Future

Recently, Flowers was one of only eight climate leaders to be selected to serve on Biden’s Climate Task Force. Being a country girl from “Bloody Lowndes” Alabama and now advising a United States presidential hopeful, Flowers has found that the support of those who are closest to her has helped her to achieve such success.

“I stand on a lot of shoulders. And I’d probably take up this entire interview just naming people who have been instrumental in influencing me from my childhood even through now,” she told me.

She emphasized her parents’ role in her activism. “I think what I developed from my parents was a sense of what is morally right and a sense of giving a voice to people that do not have the access, or the privilege themselves,” she said, hoping to use her platform to do just that.

While Flowers and those in her life and community have faced continual challenges, she remains optimistic.

“I am hopeful for the future because young people are the future… The fight, the vision, I see we are going to get closer to where we need to be.”

All photos courtesy of Catherine Coleman Flowers

Original Post

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.