Nexus: No Climate Justice Without Racial Justice

By Caroline Griffith

“We know that there is no climate justice without racial justice. The exploitation of black people is the greatest extractive system of production of all time and in order to heal the planet, we must have black and indigenous liberation.” 

Alexandria Villaseñor, the 15-year-old climate activist who is co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike and founder of Earth Uprising

Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice. Photo credit: People’s Climate Movement Facebook page.

In the days since another unarmed black man was killed by police officers in Minneapolis, protests and demonstrations have risen up in hundreds of cities around the world calling for an end to the systemic racism that has led to police brutality of people of color becoming so commonplace in the U.S. These protests have been notable not just in their size and intensity, but also because of the solidarity that has been shown by environmental justice, social justice and labor-rights organizations. 

The intersection of racial justice and environmental or climate justice is profit; the systems of oppression and exploitation that harm people of color, poor people and the environment are often the same and they exist so that someone can get rich. The environment is just collateral damage, as are the people who rely on that environment to live. Profit is why more than half of all people who live within 1.86 miles of a hazardous waste facility in the U.S. are people of color. People of color are almost twice as likely as white people to live near dangerous chemical facilities. As Flint, MI has shown us, poor minority communities are at a significantly higher risk when it comes to water contamination: 11.2 percent of African American children and 4.0 percent of Mexican-American children are poisoned by lead, compared with 2.3 percent of white children. 

Racial justice is environmental justice. If we in the environmental movement seek to end the assault on our air, water and climate we need to join together to get to the root of the problem: profit-driven, polluting corporations and institutions are harming communities of color because they see them as expendable and less likely to speak out about and fight against environmental harm than their white counterparts. Communities of color are being used to facilitate the profit-driven assault on the environment, and the segregation and stratification of our society has allowed this to continue because the repercussions are not felt equally, and are largely not felt by decision makers.

Environmental justice is defined as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. The key word here is meaningful. Statements of solidarity, of which there have been many, are powerful, but actions of solidarity are what are needed. Here on the north coast, what that looks like is following the leadership of Indigenous communities and communities of color when it comes to the issues that affect us all; we need to offer our skills and energy in fighting side-by-side and truly collaborating on solutions. Solidarity means shared struggle. It means that our fight is the same fight, and when we stand together against injustice, both environmental and racial, we can tip the scales.