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environmental racism

The National Black Climate Summit

Greenpeace USA’s Just Recovery Agenda: A Pathway to a New Economy

By Ryan Schleeter, Amy Moas, Ph.D., and Tim Donaghy, Ph.D. - Greenpeace, November 17, 2020

The economy we have today works for the 1%, not the 99%. The devastation wrought by COVID-19 in the United States—the death, anxiety, isolation, and instability—is the direct result of a system designed to concentrate power in the hands of a few. People are suffering and dying not only because of the virus, but because of the longstanding inequality and racism it has laid bare. This is the same system that has landed us in a climate and extinction crisis in which our very life support system—our planet—is under attack.

As we chart the course toward recovery, we must also confront these social, environmental, and economic injustices at their roots. The centuries-long era of racial capitalism[1]—the system under which wealthy white elites and massive corporations have controlled and exploited land, communities, and cultures to acquire power—must end.

Going back to normal is not an option. The past was not only unjust and inequitable, it was unstable. What we knew as “normal” was a crisis. We must reimagine the systems our country is built on from the ground up. We envision a world where everyone has a good life, where our fundamental needs are met, and where people everywhere have what they need to thrive.

Read the text (PDF).

A Letter and Action Plan for Racial Change at the California Air Resources Board

By various - Concerned Black Employees at CARB, September 4, 2020

Who We Are

We are a group of concerned Black employees at the California Air Resources Board (CARB). We are Millennials, Generation X’ers, and Baby Boomers, with individual years of experience ranging from 2 years to 30 years.

Why Are We Speaking Up?

The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, began a long overdue nationwide discussion about race and the Black experience in the United States. Discussions are taking place every day around the nation, and the world, about the myriad of ways Black lives are under attack in every facet of life. We have written this letter and action plan as our contribution to these discussions. Our intention is to highlight systemic racism and implicit bias at CARB through sharing stories of our lived experiences. We have also included an action plan with concrete ways to begin the hard work of supporting and healing the wounds of Black employees at CARB. In many instances we may indicate “white”, but Black employees at CARB also experience discrimination from other non-Black people of color (POC). Our goal is not to shame or belittle CARB, or to assign blame. However, it is important to bring these issues into the light, so we can spread awareness, and address harmful behaviors, structures, and practices.

We hope our words will encourage deep reflection, growth, and meaningful transformation concerning the culture of white privilege in our workplace and our country. CARB and other government agencies are increasingly using terms like “equity”, “diversity”, and “environmental justice” without recognizing the importance of having a workforce that reflects these principles. We are speaking up because we believe that Black employees must play a critical role if CARB truly believes in the pursuit of equity, diversity, and environmental justice.

Read the text (PDF).

How We Beat Trump’s Dirty Power Play

By Ben Ishibashi - Common Dreams, October 11, 2017

Donald Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, think undoing all that has gone before them is something to celebrate. With no real accomplishments of their own, they revel in their power to destroy, rather than defend.

This is what Pruitt wants out of his bid to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration’s signature effort to cut carbon emissions from electric power generation by 32 percent by 2030.

“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt crowed at a press conference on Monday in Hazard, Kentucky, beaming. as if easing restrictions on dirty generators will magically bring back jobs to the state’s ravaged coalfields. It will not.

Allowing power companies to pump more carbon into the atmosphere won’t create jobs, nor will it revitalize the economy, even if Pruitt and Trump claim it as a big win.

But their bid to repeal the Clean Power Plan may have one silver lining: It gives all of us who care about climate justice a new opportunity to make our voices heard, and to fight for our planet’s future.

Big Oil’s Bi-Partisan Helpers: a Refiner’s Fire 5 Years Later

By Steve Early - Counterpunch, August 4, 2017

Five years ago, my wife and I moved to Richmond, CA and soon learned about the local emergency response protocol known as “shelter in place.”

When large fires break out in Bay Area refineries, like the century old Chevron facility near our house, first a siren sounds. Then public officials direct everyone nearby to take cover inside. Doors must be closed, windows taped shut, if possible, and air conditioning turned off.

August 6th is the fifth anniversary of such self-help efforts in Richmond. On that day in 2012, we looked up and saw an eruption worthy of Mount Vesuvius. Due to pipe corrosion and lax maintenance practices, a Chevron processing unit sprang a leak. The escaping petroleum vapor reached an ignition source. This led to a raging fire that Contra Costa County (home to four refineries) classified as a “Level 3 incident,” posing the highest level of danger.

Nineteen oil workers narrowly escaped death at the scene of the accident. It sent a towering plume of toxic smoke over much of the East Bay and fifteen thousand refinery neighbors in search of medical attention for respiratory complaints, While local property values took a hit, Chevron stayed on track to make $25 billion in profits that year.

Cap and Trade: Jerry Brown signs his bill (and calls opponents political terrorists)

By Dan Bacher - Red, Green, and Blue, July 28, 2017

“California is leading the world in dealing with a principal existential threat that humanity faces,” said Governor Brown at the signing ceremony. “We are a nation-state in a globalizing world and we’re having an impact and you’re here witnessing one of the key milestones in turning around this carbonized world into a decarbonized, sustainable future.”

Background: Cap and Trade: “Yes, this deal sucks, but we need to pass something. Anything.”

Brown signed the legislation on Treasure Island because it was the same location where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 32 (the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) that authorized the state’s cap-and-trade program more than a decade ago.

Schwarzenegger also spoke at the signing ceremony, along with  Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De León, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and others.

Over 65 environmental justice, consumer and conservation groups strongly opposed the legislation that was based largely on a Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) wish list. Julia May, senior scientist at Communities for a Better Environment, summed up the many problems with AB 398:

“The Cap & Trade extension was written by the oil industry, is even worse than the current failed program, includes preemptions from local action, gives away so many free credits we will never meet climate goals, and allows oil refineries to expand indefinitely with no program for Just Transition to clean energy that is so desperately needed in environmental justice communities.”

Confronting the Whiteness of Environmentalism

By Rachel Levelle - 350.org PDX, June 29, 2017

Climate Justice means hard work.

It’s tempting to assign labels or catchphrases to movements. The concept of climate justice or environmental justice has caught massive traction in organizing groups, but as easy as it is to put on a banner, it’s even easier to lose sight of what it really means.

Growing up in Beaverton, it was very easy for me to view climate change as solely a crisis of nature. It never occurred to me that the burden of the crisis was being shouldered unevenly. I heard about the polar ice caps melting and polar bears dying, but not about the Pacific Islander and seaside communities that were losing their homes at the same time. People like the workers at fossil fuel plants that need a steady paycheck, indigenous communities whose land is poisoned by oil, and low-income communities neighboring train tracks or dumping sites are not responsible for climate change or harm to environment. Yet, when coal trains derailing, toxic waste dumps, pipelines, and horrific factory conditions are talked about, plants and animals receive empathy while the people affected by these tragedies are too often ignored by the climate and environmental movements.

Repeatedly, environmental crises are viewed in isolation from issues like economic and racial justice by mainstream organizers and media. But the links of whose health and safety are valued and whose are disposable are deeply tied to these problems. Would corporations have the power to dump however much toxic waste and garbage they wanted if those sites were in predominantly white, middle-upper class neighborhoods? If affluent white communities were dependent on the health of the oceans and rivers for daily survival, would the response to pollution be so moderate? The answer is, unfortunately, seen in movements such as “Not In My Backyard” and in the decision to move the Dakota Access Pipeline onto Lakota and Dakota land. When projects are based in wealthier, white neighborhoods, they’re shut down rapidly.

As I began organizing during college, I realized this wasn’t because only these neighborhoods were protesting the developments. It was that these people were given legitimacy and a platform because of their identities. I could explain here the roots and causes of environmental injustice, but there are many who have done it better than I could (see the links below!). But simply stated, the effects come from the toxic combinations of capitalism and white supremacy.

Again and again in organizing, I’ve encountered an mindset among white organizers that people of color and poor folks aren’t fighting climate change. Often it is done with a sort of sympathetic, condescending tilt. When predominantly white environmental groups are asked why their campaigns aren’t drawing the power of more peoples to speak on their own behalf, there are some common responses: people of color are too busy organizing against racism, or lower-income communities are occupied with organizing for fair wages and better housing… or earning a wage.

And yet, very term “environmental justice” was coined by poor, black, rural organizers in the 1980’s. People like Reverend Leon White, Reverend Ben Chavis, and Reverend Joseph Lowery fought in Warren County against a toxic landfill being placed in their town. Environmental justice isn’t a free-floating term. It had been used by Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian, and Pacific-Islander organizers to rebel against exploitative, unsustainable farming practices, fossil fuel plants, toxic waste dumps, destruction of natural landscapes they call home, and more. The harsh truth is, though, that these communities have been organizing against environmental degradation from the beginning—white environmentalists just didn’t notice because the campaign message wasn’t flagged as pro-environment.

Here’s the crux of the issue. Any solution, yes, ANY solution that remedies environmental injustice, and that does not center people of color and lower-income people in both formation and implementation is incomplete. Read that sentence again, and remember it. Because these false solutions fail to defend those most affected by climate change. There are issues and solutions that middle class, white organizers frankly cannot recognize and know the solutions to by themselves, because the problems aren’t theirs.

I’m not going to pretend I’m an authority on what this work entails or have unlearned all the internalized classism, misogyny, or whiteness (given that I am multiracial, I too have a lot of whiteness I need to acknowledge!) that interferes with me being able to do this work well. But that’s just it—none of us are ever done. We have to constantly be analyzing what platforms we might be taking from those who have been historically silenced. White people must acknowledge that their thought processes and false objectivity have been informed by whiteness and realize that they simply cannot have all the answers. They must become accept the tension in confronting their own biases, complacency, and role in allowing white supremacy to continue in the Pacific Northwest.

What is whiteness, and how is it different than having white skin, or than acting with white supremacist tendencies? Challenge the excuses that pop into your head to avoid the topic, and check out some of the resources below, that also show up on the environmental justice resources page. It’s really not that bad. 

Why did Plane Stupid chain themselves to the runway at Stansted Airport?

By Plane Stupid - New Internationalist, March 29, 2017

Editor's Note: Plane Stupid includes members of the IWW.

Just over a year ago we were convicted for our part in the Heathrow 13 action. We occupied the Northern runway at Heathrow, cancelling 25 flights, saving hundreds of tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted and protesting against the construction of the proposed third runway. For this we nearly went to prison.

So, why this move? Why is a well known environmental group now taking action against mass deportations?

Well, as Audre Lourde says, ‘there’s no such thing as a single issue campaign, because we do not live single issue lives.’ We do not see ourselves as ‘environmentalists’, nor do we see the fight against airport expansion or the fight against climate change as isolated from any other issue. Airport expansion is a form of violence and a form of oppression, one that a minority of people will benefit from the profits, whilst countless people will suffer from loss of community and health, both locally and globally.

As Black Lives Matter clearly stated back in September, the climate crisis is a racist crisis as it is Black, Brown and Indigenous bodies feel the worst effects of this violence. Oppressions are connected and the different forms it takes often share common roots. These roots include capitalism, racism, hetero-patriarchy and colonialism.

Reflections on Angry Inuk: White Animal Saviour (Industrial) Complex* and the Perpetuation of Colonial Domination

By Darren Chang - PPEH Lab, March 18, 2017

Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s 2016 documentary, Angry Inuk, is a story about the erasure and domination of Indigenous peoples by colonial powers. The film impassionedly defends the seal hunt industry by revealing how Western environmental and animal advocacy NGOs (e.g., Greenpeace, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International), have devastated the livelihoods of Inuit communities that rely on the industry for subsistence. The NGOs have destroyed the Inuit seal trade economy by successfully campaigning the European Union to ban products made from seals, despite allowing an exception for the trading of Inuit seal products. This reflection examines how the strategies carried out by Western NGOs to achieve their “victory” are rooted in colonial-capitalism, white supremacy and Eurocentrism, and therefore reinforces colonial domination. Below, I focus on a few strategies employed by the NGOs, as highlighted in the film.

One strategy is that the NGOs deliberately mislead the public with select imagery of seals. For example, one segment shows how the NGOs continue to use images of white-coated seal pups in their campaign advertising, even though the slaughter of white-coated seal pups has been banned in Canada for over thirty years. Another segment shows how images of seals “crying” have been heavily used in advertising by the NGOs to pull on the public’s heartstrings for effective fundraising. However, tearing has no known relation to cognitive or emotional response in seals, and serves only to protect their corneas from salt. Arnaquq-Baril also plays a 1978 interview in which Paul Watson admits that targeting the seal hunt and exploiting images of harp seals have always been the easiest way for NGOs such as Greenpeace to raise funds. At the time of the interview, Watson had left Greenpeace and founded his own Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Years later, Watson and Sea Shepherd have gone on to raise money using the exact same strategies targeting the seal hunt. This manipulative profit-driven fundraising and advocacy strategy fits into the existing nonprofit industrial complex, where the growth of NGO organizational capacities is prioritized and pursued by appealing to the sentiments of the settler-colonial population and the state.

Other parts of the film illustrate how NGOs invoke nationalist and colonial discourses by shaming the government of Canada for allowing the seal hunt, and appealing to European sensibilities in lobbying the EU for the ban. These strategies rest on the Western civilizational binary logic that defines accepted Western practices as “civilized” and non-Western practices as “savage” or “barbaric”. Tracing the NGOs’ actions along this logic illuminates why the mostly-white Western animal advocacy NGOs tend to exert a disproportionate level of aggression to end culturally-specific animal exploitations and killings practiced by people of color. Meanwhile, campaigns to challenge the infinitely more destructive and violent animal exploitation industries founded, upheld and propagated by their fellow whites (e.g. industrial animal agriculture that brutally slaughters billions of animals yearly) are carried out with less intensity and far more civility.

More importantly, if we interpret the exception in the EU ban allowing Inuit seal products to continue being traded through the civilized/savage binary logic, we see how the Inuit exception could have led more Members of the European Parliament to support the overall ban. That is, the MEPs did not vote to ban seal products because they thought killing seals was immoral or unethical; instead, the MEPs banned seal products because seal hunting was associated with the “barbaric” Inuit, who the “civilized” Europeans preferred to distance themselves from. Moreover, to uphold this European self-aggrandizing fantasy, it was important to deny the Inuit their voice and presence. Therefore, in all the NGO campaigns against the seal hunt industry, the commercial seal hunt has been whitewashed, or portrayed as predominantly white. Simultaneously, Indigenous seal hunters who depend every bit as much on the commercial industry to maintain the price of seal products, were completely erased as members of the commercial seal hunt. Effectively, the Inuit exception fixes the Inuit seal hunters and their cultures and ways of life in the past. The underlying message of the Inuit exception is that while the EU allows the Inuit seal hunters to continue their way of life, they could never expect to be part of a modern industry, because there is no place for the Inuit way of life in modernity.

In emphasizing these racist NGO strategies, Angry Inuk reveals the ways in which colonizers disintegrate Indigenous sovereignty through their good intentions to “save” others. This time, however, unlike the earlier colonizers who tried to save Indigenous peoples from so-called savagery through genocide and assimilation, the white animal saviours reproduce this colonial process (regardless of their intentions) by attempting to save animals. What many white animal saviours need to confront is a problematic drive to save every individual animal in denial of ecological realities and the necessity for some Indigenous peoples to kill other species for subsistence. White animal saviours should also own up to their unethical, institutionally racist practices of NGO campaigning.

The Burden Of Pollution And Proof

By Strela Cervas - California Environmental Justice Alliance, February 6, 2017

While California is a climate leader, it’s still an uphill battle to ensure that environmental justice issues are addressed in state policy. But with a series of new reports released over the past several months, we’ve got mounting evidence that demonstrates the urgent need to address climate and air quality impacts in California’s low-income communities and communities of color.

Last Fall, leading academics released a groundbreaking report on the impacts of California’s cap and trade program on low-income communities and communities of color. Just last week, a new report released by the Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) shows, yet again, that many of the concerns raised by environmental justice (EJ) communities are valid: our largest climate polluters are located disproportionately in communities of color, and along with the greenhouse gases they emit comes a whole slew of toxic air contaminants that clog our lungs and impact our quality of life.

The new agency report looks at the the location of facilities covered under California’s cap and trade program, which regulates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from stationary sources, such as refineries, cement and power plants. The researchers analyzed their location, how many tons of GHG’s they are emitting, and what other types of air contaminants are being released from these same facilities.

The report found that — not surprisingly — greenhouse gas facilities are disproportionately located in EJ communities. More than half (57%) are located in or within one-half mile of a disadvantaged community. This includes 15 out of the 20 refineries in the state.

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