In The Fight For Racial Justice, We Cannot Overlook The Climate Crisis

04/27/2017 04:16 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2017

From increases in severe weather such as hurricanes and droughts, to the toxins that are poisoning our soil, air and water, the human impact of the worsening climate crisis is undeniable. Also undeniable is the disparate impact the effects of the climate crisis have on low income communities and communities of color. We know that the poisoned children and families of Flint, Michigan still have no clean water more than three years after the corrupt and willful negligence of their state government was exposed. A decade after Hurricane Katrina, the residents of the Gulf Coast are still trying to put their lives together. In California, farmers and farm workers alike have lost income and in some cases their entire livelihoods thanks to the drought that plagued the state for the past few years.

It is imperative that environmental issues be a critical component of our fight for racial, social and economic justice. What’s more, we must understand that the harms inflicted on our communities are not inevitable, naturally occurring phenomenon or accidents. The climate crisis resulted from decisions and priorities set by politicians and their corporate campaign contributors in Washington.

Unfortunately communities of color and low-income communities bear the brunt of this crisis. An analysis published last year in peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters found of all permitted industrial facilities across the United States, “there exists a class of hyper-polluters—the worst-of-the-worst—that disproportionately expose communities of color and low income populations to chemical releases.” Similarly, a Yale study found “communities of color and those with low education and high poverty and unemployment face greater health risks even if their air quality meets federal health standards.”

President Trump claims his executive order to curb the federal government's enforcement of climate regulations will help create more jobs for Americans. Yet he neglects to mention the devastating impact this order will have on our environment.

We deserve to earn a living that does not hurt our bodies and our planet. No one should have to sign up to get black lung disease to support their families. We must invest in a clean energy infrastructure that does not poison our environment and we must protect communities from environmental pollution that threatens their well being.

On April 29 in Washington, D.C. and in cities across the country, students, workers, faith communities, Indigenous nations, and environmental groups and even a delegation of fisherman traveling to DC by boat will take to the streets for the People’s Climate March to resist Trump’s attacks on our communities and our planet. Over 100,000 people have already signed up to march and there are plans for 250 sister marches across the country.

The Center for Popular Democracy is joining this fight. We cannot meet CDP's mission to advance a pro-worker, pro-immigrant, racial and economic justice policy agenda nationwide if we neglect the role of climate change in the fight for equality. Solutions that avert the worst impacts of the climate change and pollution and build a new, more just economy in the process are within reach – what is needed is a movement powerful enough to win them. The People’s Climate March is a start, but the fight will need to continue in our local communities.

Fortunately, there are community organizations who understand that achieving equity in America is tied to climate justice. Minnesota-based CPD partner Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) has been raising awareness around a metal recycling plant the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) believes may be contributing to high levels of atmospheric lead and other contaminates in the area.

The metal company and MPCA recently reached a settlement that orders Northern Metals Recycling to pay a total of $2.5 million dollars in fines for continued air monitoring, reimbursements to the state, and a sum of $600,000 for community reparations in the form of environmental and health programs, and the deadline to completely move out of north Minneapolis by August 2019.

Flint Rising in Michigan has worked tirelessly to mitigate the impact of the Flint water crisis on their community. They are supporting the People’s Climate March because they know that climate justice is not just about protecting the future, but also about mitigating and remedying current harm. The organization is demanding a new water infrastructure for Flint and the hundreds of similarly situated cities and towns across America whose water is polluted with toxins like lead. They are also fighting for a moratorium on residential water bills, and healthcare for the residents who continue to suffer from illnesses related to the toxic water.

Communities of color and low income communities are also fighting to live in safe and healthy neighborhoods by holding corporate polluters accountable. For example, in Texas, Texas Organizing Project (TOP) members in Houston demanded the city, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) clean up an abandoned plant in a local community. The plant was leaking toxic waste and endangering residents in the south Houston neighborhood. Community organizers fought to keep residents safe and eventually EPA and TCEQ agreed to clean up the plant.

Each day brings a devastating new story of pollution’s disproportionate impact on low-income people of color and these impacts will only intensify under the Trump Administration. Without a movement powerful enough to win bold solutions to the climate crisis, over the coming years low-income communities and communities of color will continue to suffer because of the greatest man-made disasters the world has ever known.

The Center for Popular Democracy and our affiliates are proud to join the People's Climate March in demanding that this administration change course and put people and the planet over corporate profits.

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