Environmental, Climate, and Racial Justice

by | June 5, 2020

Black Lives Matter Protests

This moment feels different.

Despite the dystopic response from the federal government and many police across the country, it feels like we’re in the midst of what could be the beginning of a great turning point in the US towards justice.

I know about 1/3 of people who get this email are from outside the US, so in case you want to know what’s going on, I recommend you start by watching:

  • The heart-wrenching, 10-minute video of a police officer slowly and casually killing George Floyd (FYI – it’s a lot. You will probably cry).
  • And Trevor Noah’s take on everything that’s happening for context and insights.

Personally, I know I can do more. I will do better.

Crowdsourcing Sustainability exists to reverse global warming ASAP. Because in the long run that will save and improve the most lives – particularly people of color in frontline communities and the global south who are, and will continue to be, hit first and worst by the climate crisis.

This is the biggest motivator for me – to minimize people’s suffering, and maximize well-being.

Crowdsourcing Sustainability’s vision is for “a safe, healthy, and just world.”

So I convinced myself I was doing enough. But I should’ve known. I’ve shared these quotes before…

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

I could be doing more for racial justice today. And I will do more – starting with educating myself and being a more vocal ally.

I hope you’ll join me if you aren’t already leading the way.

A must-read article

There’s a lot of good work coming out on the inseparability of climate, environmental, and racial justice.

The article that really stuck out to me was Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s “I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet.”

Talk about powerful.

I highly encourage you to go read the whole thing, but these were some of my favorite quotes:

“Stopping climate change is hard enough, but racism only makes it harder.

The sheer magnitude of transforming our energy, transportation, buildings and food systems within a decade, while striving to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions shortly thereafter, is already overwhelming. And black Americans are disproportionately more likely than whites to be concerned about — and affected by — the climate crisis. But the many manifestations of structural racism, mass incarceration and state violence mean environmental issues are only a few lines on a long tally of threats. How can we expect black Americans to focus on climate when we are so at risk on our streets, in our communities, and even within our own homes? How can people of color effectively lead their communities on climate solutions when faced with pervasive and life-shortening racism?

Even at its most benign, racism is incredibly time consuming. Black people don’t want to be protesting for our basic rights to live and breathe. We don’t want to constantly justify our existence. Racism, injustice and police brutality are awful on their own, but are additionally pernicious because of the brain power and creative hours they steal from us. I think of one black friend of mine who wanted to be an astronomer, but gave up that dream because organizing for social justice was more pressing. Consider the discoveries not made, the books not written, the ecosystems not protected, the art not created, the gardens not tended.

Here’s the rub: If we want to successfully address climate change, we need people of color. Not just because pursuing diversity is a good thing to do, and not even because diversity leads to better decision-making and more effective strategies, but because, black people are significantly more concerned about climate change than white people (57 percent vs. 49 percent), and Latinx people are even more concerned (70 percent). To put that in perspective, it means that more than 23 million black Americans already care deeply about the environment and could make a huge contribution to the massive amount of climate work that needs doing.

People of color disproportionately bear climate impacts, from storms to heat waves to pollution. Fossil-fueled power plants and refineries are disproportionately located in black neighborhoods, leading to poor air quality and putting people at higher risk for coronavirus. Such issues are finally being covered in the news media more fully.

Look, I would love to ignore racism and focus all my attention on climate. But I can’t. Because I am human. And I’m black. And ignoring racism won’t make it go away.

So, to white people who care about maintaining a habitable planet, I need you to become actively anti-racist. I need you to understand that our racial inequality crisis is intertwined with our climate crisis. If we don’t work on both, we will succeed at neither. I need you to step up. Please. Because I am exhausted.”

(If the first section of this newsletter didn’t make it clear – Crowdsourcing Sustainability is and must be committed to anti-racism.)

I also found Mattias Lehman’s article particularly moving:

“Before my involvement with Sunrise, I didn’t identify with the climate movement. I have always seen the climate movement as too white, too middle-class, and often more concerned with trees and polar bears than with the human destruction climate change wreaks disproportionately upon Black and Brown communities around the world.

The intersectionality of the Green New Deal is what brought me to Sunrise Movement, and it is what has brought so many people of color into movements for climate justice, particularly the Indigenous movements that have always led the way. For us people of color, the fight against climate change exists alongside the fight against white supremacy and colonialism.

We see the climate crisis unfold at the border every day, as immigrants from countries driven into famine and drought by climate change come here, seeking a better life, and instead are locked in cages. And we see far too many climate movements remain silently complicit in white supremacy.

This has to change.”

Much love to the Sunrise Movement! (I haven’t gone in a while but do still consider myself a part of it – such an amazing community.)

As Co-Founder Varshini Prakash wrote recently, “Sunrise’s 10th principle says: ‘We stand with other movements for change,’ not just because it’s the right thing to do but it’s the only way we’re going to win the Green New Deal and win that kind of change.”

Wise words to share

I don’t think I can say it any better than Samin Nosrat did here:

“Anti-racism is a full time pursuit. To my non-black, non-indigenous friends and followers: Keep donating, keep learning, keep reading, keep feeling uncomfortable, keep showing up. Keep having the hard conversations. Keep holding yourself and those around you accountable. Do not let your energy wane when this moment passes. To my black and indigenous friends and followers: I stand with you, I am here for you, I am sending you love and strength, and I will never stop learning and working to raise you up. Thank you for everything you have taught and given me. #blacklivesmatter

Environmental Justice & Crowdsourcing Sustainability

Noah Mertz, who is working with Crowdsourcing Sustainability this summer, started the “Environmental_Justice” channel in slack last week (slack invite here). If you’re interested, I’d love for you to join us as we shape the direction of the channel. We plan to help lift underrepresented voices, better understand all the ways racial justice intersects with environmental and climate justice (there are a ton), and learn how to level up our collective impact together.


“The question is: Are we going to step up for communities that have been harmed – for people who are dying? [Are we going to maintain] the status quo that continues to fail to deliver in every way and is sacrificing us one by one or are we going to get into the largest group possible to end it?” – Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

This post originally featured in the Crowdsourcing Sustainability newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter below!

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