Black environmentalists are uniting to fight climate injustice

“I can’t breathe.” These were among the final words that George Floyd and Eric Garner gasped before their deaths at the hands of white police officers. That plea has become part of the current rallying cry for racial justice and an end to police brutality in the United States. But for Black people living near industrial facilities, the phrase has an additional layer of meaning: a reminder of their disproportionate pollution burden.

“While many in power seemed surprised that COVID-19 is killing twice as many Black Americans, those of us in the environmental justice movement know that the health impacts of cumulative and disproportionate levels of pollution in our communities have created underlying health conditions that contribute to our higher COVID-19 mortality rates,” said Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

Shepard is part of the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN), a national coalition of Black environmental justice groups and grassroots activists founded in 1991. Although the network took a hiatus in 2006 after executive director Damu Smith died, the network just announced that it’s making a comeback against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and renewed calls to fight racial injustice.

The network’s mission sends a clear message: Environmental injustice is not a single issue. Rather, it’s a constellation of issues including discrimination in housing, jobs, and healthcare. Discriminatory policies such as banks’ government-sanctioned refusal to approve home loans and insurance for people in communities of color, also known as redlining, forced Black families into neighborhoods more likely to be exposed to industrial pollution and extreme heat

Now, these same communities face a surge in unemployment and poverty rates as a result of the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic, and they also are disproportionately dying from the novel coronavirus as a result of a lack of health insurance, unequal access to test sites and higher workplace exposure via employment in essential services. As if that weren’t enough, a recent Harvard study also found a link between air pollution and death from COVID-19.

Given the systemic conditions that disproportionately expose Black people to the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and other worsening crises, NBEJN members — including the network’s co-chairs, environmental justice pioneers Robert Bullard and Beverly Wright — say they are looking to bring in Black lawyers, engineers, leaders, and other experts to join forces to help create an equitable green stimulus package, take on the fossil fuel industry and fight the President’s seemingly endless orders to weaken environmental protections.

Network leaders say COVID-19 recovery legislation could be an opportunity for lawmakers to pass a robust green stimulus package that would focus on environmental justice. Such a green stimulus package, the coalition said, needs to address core issues of systemic racism by, for example, providing green jobs to communities of color.

For the full story on the Black environmentalist movement by Grist reporter Rachel Ramirez, follow the link right here.

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Black environmentalists are uniting to fight climate injustice

“I can’t breathe.” These were among the final words that George Floyd and Eric Garner gasped before their deaths at the hands of white police officers. That plea has become part of the current rallying cry for racial justice and an end to police brutality in the United States. But for Black people living near industrial facilities, the phrase has an additional layer of meaning: a reminder of their disproportionate pollution burden.

“While many in power seemed surprised that COVID-19 is killing twice as many Black Americans, those of us in the environmental justice movement know that the health impacts of cumulative and disproportionate levels of pollution in our communities have created underlying health conditions that contribute to our higher COVID-19 mortality rates,” said Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

Shepard is part of the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN), a national coalition of Black environmental justice groups and grassroots activists founded in 1991. Although the network took a hiatus in 2006 after executive director Damu Smith died, the network just announced that it’s making a comeback against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and renewed calls to fight racial injustice.

The network’s mission sends a clear message: Environmental injustice is not a single issue. Rather, it’s a constellation of issues including discrimination in housing, jobs, and healthcare. Discriminatory policies such as banks’ government-sanctioned refusal to approve home loans and insurance for people in communities of color, also known as redlining, forced Black families into neighborhoods more likely to be exposed to industrial pollution and extreme heat

Now, these same communities face a surge in unemployment and poverty rates as a result of the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic, and they also are disproportionately dying from the novel coronavirus as a result of a lack of health insurance, unequal access to test sites and higher workplace exposure via employment in essential services. As if that weren’t enough, a recent Harvard study also found a link between air pollution and death from COVID-19.

Given the systemic conditions that disproportionately expose Black people to the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and other worsening crises, NBEJN members — including the network’s co-chairs, environmental justice pioneers Robert Bullard and Beverly Wright — say they are looking to bring in Black lawyers, engineers, leaders, and other experts to join forces to help create an equitable green stimulus package, take on the fossil fuel industry and fight the President’s seemingly endless orders to weaken environmental protections.

Network leaders say COVID-19 recovery legislation could be an opportunity for lawmakers to pass a robust green stimulus package that would focus on environmental justice. Such a green stimulus package, the coalition said, needs to address core issues of systemic racism by, for example, providing green jobs to communities of color.

For the full story on the Black environmentalist movement by Grist reporter Rachel Ramirez, follow the link right here.

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