How climate change and environmental justice are inextricably linked – The Washington Post

by | Jun 14, 2022 | Climate Change

Placeholder while article actions loadRhiana Gunn-Wright, 32, is one of the architects of the Green New Deal and the director of climate policy at the Roosevelt Institute, a New York-based think tank. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son.It’s probably best for us to begin with definitions of climate justice and environmental justice. Are those the same thing?Climate justice is essentially about recognizing the fact that the climate crisis disproportionately affects people who are low-income, especially Black, Brown and Indigenous folks. They are also the folks who are going to have the fewest resources to cope with the changes that the climate crisis brings — whether that means not having the means to relocate if they are in a place that is heavily impacted, not having the money to install solar panels on a home, not having the means to pay for increased heating or cooling costs.AdvertisementEnvironmental justice is about the ways that the built environment has been created and carved up in ways that expose Black, Brown and Indigenous folks to more pollution, more toxic sites, more chemicals in water supplies. Putting them close to abandoned mines or where oil drilling happens. The way that the built environment has been created to sort of cluster those harms that are all consequences of fossil fuel industries. Fossil fuels are poisonous. And that has to go somewhere. Legacies of systemic racism and residential segregation have been exploited to create those environments.The interesting thing about air pollution, in particular, is you can’t even say low-income people of color because the fact is that even middle-income Black folks are exposed to more pollution than lower-income White folks. Income and class are not even mitigating factors the way that you’d think it would be. So environmental justice is very much about racism.Is there some assumption that these communities are not aware of this, if even middle-income Black communities are close to toxic areas?AdvertisementSome of it is about awareness, particularly if the pollution is coming from just the way the built environment is — you’re next to a highway or you’re next to a transit depot, or you live on a major street where there are lots of trucks. They’re attached to pollution, but it’s not as though it’s screamed from the rooftops.The thing they take more advantage of is the histories of residential segregation and housing discrimination. Middle-income Black folks are more likely to live in neighborhoods with higher poverty levels because of racial segregation. And those areas are more likely to be zoned for industrial use. So you have legacies of red lining that have crowded people of color into one area, and then that area is more likely to be zoned industrial, so it’s cheaper to locate these facilities there. Or you’re next to a highway, so the home values are lower, so it’s harder to move out of these places. All of these things make these areas more vulnerable.These are the things that have to happen in an economy that is reliant on fossil fuels. The factories have to be built. The oil refineries have to be somewhere. The trucks have to run somewhere. The highways have to be somewhere. All of which has a negative impact on public health. All of which on some level is poisonous. And so who is going to be listened to the least when they are poisoned? Who can be harmed without consequence? Who is least likely to be believed when they say, “My kid has asthma” or “My daughter has mysterious breast cancer”? Whose lives are socially treated as less valuable? People of color.AdvertisementAnd “power” seems like an important word.One hundred percent.Many predominantly White communities have often been effective at protecting their neighborhoods.Front-line communities, disadvantaged communities, those that are the most affected by environmental justice, it’s not as though they aren’t doing anything. A lot of these communities are highly organized; these folks are having to fight for decades, find partners, get outside funding to run …

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