Going Green is a Black and Brown Issue

by Lucas Land

We are at a watershed moment in history. We face multiple ecological crises, and time is running out. Transitioning to a sustainable society is THE issue of our generation, the greatest challenge that the human race has ever faced. It is a truly global crisis and therefore unites us, because we are all in the same boat, a small blue marble hurtling through space. This is what I am passionate about and why I work tirelessly to improve our little corner of this blue marble.

Yet, I feel awkward writing those words as our country continues to wrestle with the highly publicized deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and many others in recent years. The list of victims of police brutality continues to grow. The violent actions of individuals towards law enforcement has only heightened the tensions.

How can we focus on the ecological crises we face when our brothers and sisters are dying in the streets? I believe we can build a bridge between these two issues. This bridge depends on two things: recognizing and getting involved in the struggle of people who continue to face inequality, violence and prejudice, and recognizing that the consequences of the ecological crises we face are suffered disproportionately by minorities and the poor.

First, if we want people who are the victims of police brutality, inequality and prejudice to join our movement, then we MUST get involved in theirs. I cannot recommend enough Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow for a thorough history of the policies that have led to this era of mass incarceration, militarization of the police, and systemic disenfranchisement of minorities. People are not likely to get involved in the movement for a sustainable future when they fear for their safety and struggle to thrive.

The second half of this bridge I’m suggesting we build is recognizing that environmental pollution and climate disruption disproportionately affect people of color. More African-Americans will die this year from environmental causes than police brutality, but environmental racism is less dramatic and the threat of violence feels more imminent than the effects of climate change. [1]

According to Dr. Robert Bullard, the father of the environmental justice movement, “African Americans are 79% more likely than whites to live where industrial pollution poses the greatest health danger. People of color make up most (56%) of those living in neighborhoods within two miles of commercial hazardous waste facilities, and over two-thirds (69%) of those living near clustered facilities.” [2]

I had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by Dr. Bullard in 2014 at a conference on Environmental Justice at Texas Lutheran University. In his talk map after map revealed that the most vulnerable populations (people of color and the poor) in the United States are concentrated in areas with the highest risk for the effects of climate change, and they are the least prepared for those potential disasters. [2]

The water crisis in Flint this year is a recent example of the continuing effects of environmental racism. Officials are slower to respond to the concerns of poor, minority communities. In the case of Flint, state officials and the EPA attempted to cover up their lack of response. [3]

The affluent neighborhood of Porter Ranch in Los Angeles was affected this year by the largest methane leak in US history. The response by officials was swift to address the situation. Yet, residents of L.A.’s poorer neighborhoods have complained about the effects of drilling for years without receiving the same response. [4]

I’m thankful for the recent responses of Dr. Peaches Henry and Robert Callahan to recent cases of police brutality as well as violence towards officers. The NAACP, Community Race Relations Coalition (CRRC) and many others have worked tirelessly for years to make Waco a community where all of us can prosper and feel safe. There is a lot of work to be done to make Waco a community that is sustainable and to combat climate change. Let’s build a bridge between these movements and realize that they are not separate and isolated from each other. This is work that we can and must do together.

Here are some tangible things you can do to build this bridge:

  • Attend the Justice Forum at Greater New Light MBC on Wednesday, July 27 at 7:00pm.
  • Attend CRRC’s Celebration of Cultures on Thursday, July 28 at 5:30pm at St. Alban’s.
  • Like Sustainable Waco on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/sustainablewaco/) to find out what’s happening and connect with others working on sustainability
  • Come to the next ACE CenTex (http://www.acecentex.org) meeting to work on transitioning to renewable energy August 18 from 6:30-8:30pm at 1721 Sanger Ave.

Lucas LandLucas Land is an eco-theologian, urban farmer, activist, aspiring master naturalist, facilitator, musician, and writer. He is avoiding growing up by constantly learning and trying new things. He also works in Grants Management for Waco ISD. He lives with his wife, three children, flock of chickens, dog, and cat in the Sanger Heights Neighborhood in North Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

[1] Ellison, Charles D. “Racism in the Air You Breathe: When Where You Live Determines How Fast You Di” (http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/08/environmental_racism_when_where_you_live_determines_how_fast_you_die/)

[2] Bullard, Robert.  “Mapping Environmental Injustice and Then Doing Something About It”. Presentation, January 31, 2015 at Texas Southern University. (http://www.dscej.org/images/pdfs/2015TRIRegionalWorkshop/RobertBullardPresentation.pdf)

[3]  Mathis-Lilley, Ben. “Michigan Knew Last Year That Flint’s Water Might Be Poisoned But Decided Not to Tell Anyone”. (http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/01/11/state_of_michigan_flint_broke_law_and_covered_up_lead_levels_in_water_expert.html)

[4] Bliss, Laura. “L.A.’s Slow-Moving Oil and Gas Disaster”.  (http://www.citylab.com/politics/2016/02/california-porter-ranch-gas-leak-oil-environmental-justice/425052/)

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