Climate Change Is Not A Future Problem For Communities of Color. It Is a NOW Problem. - Advancement Project - Advancement Project

Climate Change Is Not A Future Problem For Communities of Color. It Is a NOW Problem.

By Jennifer Lai-Peterson

The discourse around climate change today is not about whether (no pun intended), but when. Even oil and gas companies are openly stating in federal court that they “accept the consensus in the scientific communities on climate change.[1] Some climate scientists say we have about 20 years before catastrophic changes are upon us.[2] Others say due to fracking, “we’re almost there today.”[3]

For communities of color, however, the when is now.

“It’s not about one or ten or twenty years before climate change. Nah. It’s happening right now in the Black community. We’ve been dying,” a Black elder who survived Hurricane Katrina, Curtis Muhammad, told me recently.  “We live in the low-lying flood areas. We’re in Cancer Alley. We are the canaries in the coal mine.”

Indeed, communities of color have long been “living on the front lines of both the causes and effects of climate change,” says Monique Harden, Assistant Director of Law and Policy at the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ).[4]  Studies show polluting industries that release both toxic and climate pollution are disproportionately located near communities of color.  In addition, there is little disagreement today that due to structural inequities based on race, communities of color continue to be hit “first and worst” in the climate crisis.[5]

“Cancer Alley” in Louisiana is one example. It is an area that stretches along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and the Gulf of Mexico with over 200 petrochemical facilities.  African American and Indigenous communities bear the brunt of that pollution. Such pollution can cause not only asthma and cancer, but also the warming of the planet and the creation of stronger hurricanes that wreak havoc on communities of color in the Gulf of Region. “These are all of one piece,” Ms. Harden concludes.[6]

Ms. Harden’s group, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ), is leading local efforts to stop a proposed gas power plant that is planned near predominantly African American and Vietnamese American neighborhoods in East New Orleans.[7] Residents of East New Orleans continue to struggle to rebuild their communities after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and levee failure. Their struggle is difficult not only because of the hurricane, but because of the inequities in governmental disaster funds that have skipped over them.[8] Adding to this injustice, Entergy, a utility corporation, is seeking environmental permits for the gas power plant, which would allow on an annual basis more than one million pounds of toxic air pollution near homes and schools in East New Orleans and over one billion pounds of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

“Climate science indicates a level at which greenhouse gas emissions should be cut back to mitigate climate change. Environmental science tells us that there is no safe level for many of the pollutants that are spewed into the air. How long would it take to establish laws and policies that respond to this science if, on a national and global scale, predominantly white children and families bore the brunt of all the risks and harm of climate change and toxic pollution?” Ms. Harden asked in a recent discussion.

Communities of color face tremendous challenges during and after climate-related extreme weather events. For example, communities of color often have fewer resources to evacuate. And when evacuated, communities of color are displaced for long periods of time without governmental recognition of their fundamental right to return.  In this period of displacement, the machinations of “disaster capitalism” then descend and the wholesale dismantlement of public systems (schools, utilities, housing) is suddenly on the table.[9]

It is beyond the scope of this post to detail the tireless and brilliant work of all those in the Gulf South, Puerto Rico, and Houston who fight this fight every single day.  Instead, what I lift up today is a foundational principle that has stayed with me through the years: Nothing about us without us is for us.

This was the rallying cry of Black survivors of Hurricane Katrina.  The people most affected by the impacts of climate change must be at the center of the response to the climate crisis.  Those most affected must lead our collective efforts.  And those leaders and efforts should be identified and expanded now.

 

Jennifer Lai-Peterson is a Senior Attorney at Advancement Project.  She lived and worked in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina.  Along with Judith Browne Dianis, Marielena Hincapie, and Saket Soni, she co-authored An Injustice For All: Workers’ Lives in the Reconstruction of New Orleans, a report on race and labor after Katrina, based on interviews with over a thousand Black, Latinx, and Native workers.

 


[1] Umair Irfan, Chevron just agreed in court that humans cause climate change, setting a new legal precedent, VOX, Mar. 28, 2018, https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/3/28/17152804/climate-change-federal-court-chevron.[2] Sharon Kelly, World May Hit 2 Degrees of Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking, Says Cornell Scientist, DESMOG, Apr. 11, 2018, https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/04/11/climate-change-two-degree-warming-fracking-natural-gas-rush-ingraffea.

[3] Id.

[4] Monique Harden, Wendell Pierce, and Gary Rivlin, An Unequal Recovery in New Orleans: Racial Disparities Grow in City 10 Years After Katrina, Democracy Now, Aug. 28, 2015,  https://www.democracynow.org/2015/8/28/an_unequal_recovery_in_new_orleans (“Harden Interview”).

[5] Clean Air Task Force for Clear the Air, Air of Injustice: African Americans and Power Plant Pollution, 2002; J. Andrew Hoerner and Nia Robinson, A Climate of Change: African Americans, Global Warming, and a Just Climate Policy for the U.S., Environmental Justice & Climate Change Initiative, 2008; Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, Who’s in Danger? Race, Poverty, and Chemical Disasters: A Democratic Analysis of Chemical Disaster Vulnerability Zones, 2014; Liam Downey and Brian Hawkins, Race, Income and Environmental Inequality in the United States, SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE, December 1, 2008, 51 (4): 759-781.

[6] Harden Interview, above.

[7] Dr. Beverly Wright, Guest Opinion: What Entergy Wants Versus What New Orleans Needs, The Times-Picayune, Mar. 2, 2018, http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2018/03/entergy_power_plant_2.html.

[8] Jeff Adelson, New Orleans Segregation, Racial Disparity Likely Worsened by Post Katrina Policy, Report Says, The New Orleans Advocate, Apr. 5, 2018, http://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/article_92b962f0-3866-11e8-a851-2bbb256e2f49.html.

[9] See, e.g., Naomi Klein, The Battle For Paradise, The Intercept, Mar. 20, 2018, https://theintercept.com/2018/03/20/puerto-rico-hurricane-maria-recovery/.

KEEP READING

Voting in the 2020 Election

We know that voting is an important way to advance our fight against systemic racism. But the ongoing pandemic has created significant challenges in getting out the vote—challenges made even worse by opportunistic and racist government officials who are leveraging this crisis to make voting more complicated and less accessible to Black and Brown people. That’s where you come in. Voters need help understanding how to vote during a pandemic. Here you can find: Scripts to make online videos Memes and gifs to share on social media Messaging guides GOTV Graphics Videos to share…

Read More
Advance The Ball

Stand Up and VOTE Advancement Project National Office and the Washington Football Team are working together to advance racial justice and equality in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. By encouraging civic engagement and providing mutual aid, we can help to build the power of Black and Brown communities. Together, we’re giving the DMV a playbook for making their vote count. Voter education is particularly important this year, when so many people will be voting by mail for the first time. The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, October 13 in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. Go to…

Read More
Civil Rights Organizations Debunk Myths of No COVID-19 Cases in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison

Impacted people behind bars share harrowing stories of coronavirus outbreaks, unsanitary conditions Baton Rouge, LA – Last night, several civil rights and racial justice organizations pushed back on efforts by the Sheriff and Warden of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison to silence the detainees trapped inside the facility and to hide from community members and taxpayers what the organizations say is really happening in the jail.  The Sheriff and Warden, defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by the advocates, claim that the jail has the coronavirus pandemic under control, but the plaintiffs and…

Read More
Women Did That! 100 Years of the 19th Amendment

One hundred years ago today, the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote was ratified. Women’s suffrage was a century-long fight achieved through protest, advocacy and the legendary work of trailblazing women of color including Sojourner Truth, Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells. These women organized to combat racist policies, elect people of color to public office and create community institutions that provided mutual aid to their communities. Today, the nation cannot deny that women of color are a “…

Read More
Map the Truth Coronavirus Social Justice Guide & Webinar

Advancement Project National Office along with our national allies Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Can’t Stop! Won’t Stop! Consulting, Demos, and The Opportunity Agenda have released Map the Truth, a COVID-19/Coronavirus Social Justice Guide. This guide is a reflection of the love, unity and uplifting positivity that we collectively aim to spread amongst all impacted communities. Now, with the continuing threat of this global pandemic, that truth has become more important than ever. Collectively, we proudly commit this social justice guide to be a beacon of truth that helps uplift and support directly impacted communities to…

Read More
National Organizations Release COVID-19/Coronavirus Social Justice Guide

Advancement Project National Office, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Can’t Stop! Won’t Stop! Consulting, Demos & The Opportunity Agenda announce the release of Map The Truth, a COVID-19 Social Justice Guide.

Read More
The Power of Prosecutors – Video and Infographic

Prosecutors (also known as state attorneys or district attorneys) have enormous power in shaping justice in our communities. You have the power to elect prosecutors committed to ending mass incarceration. Watch our town hall “The Power of Prosecutors: Know Before You Vote,” and share our infographic. It’s time for people of color to be #FreeAndSafe…

Read More
Advancement Project National Office Statement on the Passing of Congressman John Lewis

WASHINGTON, DC — As the nation mourns the Friday, July 17, 2020, passing of civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis, Advancement Project National Office offers the following statement. “Like today’s young protesters, Congressman Lewis, put his life on the line to make a better America. The good trouble he committed to led to the Voting Rights Act and brought us closer to equal justice,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project National Office. “He was the conscience of Congress and the protector of voting rights. We mourn the loss of the Congressman who had an incredible spirit and…

Read More
Huge Win in Campaign to Close Notorious St. Louis Jail

St. Louis elected officials unanimously vote to close the medium security institute, known as 'the Workhouse,' after two-year campaign

Read More
We will win with supporters like you, Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation & Jack Dorsey of Twitter’s #startsmall

Since mid-March, Advancement Project National Office’s team has been entrenched in advocacy, communications and litigation—fighting to make sure community members in jail are #FreeAndSafe during COVID-19 and calling for for accountability and demanding cities and counties #DefundThePolice . Our team has been working around the clock, fatigued yet energized by wins across the country,petition signatures and calls to policymakers, and the 110,000 new supporters to our campaign for #FreeAndSafe communities. As we close the month of June, we also want to thank Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation and Jack Dorsey of Twitter’s #startsmall. In response to the urgent need for police accountability, the Clara Lionel…

Read More