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ARTICLES ON ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE

Environmental Justice — 25 Years and Counting

World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. cc. 2004 Raquel Tannuri Santana
Excerpt from the introduction to a panel discussion by Michelle DePass.

The First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held in October 1991, in Washington, DC, drafted and adopted 17 Principles of Environmental Justice that have served as a defining document for the grassroots movement for environmental justice. (See page 82.) On the 25th Anniversary of the Summit, the Tishman Environment and Design Center of The New School held a panel discussion on the themes of the Principles in New York City. In this issue we present excerpts from that discussion and two pieces from RP&E published in 1992.

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The Exodus of the People of Mossville

March for Mossville on Sasol on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. © 2016 Liana Lopez @lianalisaa

By Rebecca O. Johnson

Mossville, a small community in Southwest Louisiana, was settled over 220 years ago by 12 Black families led by the freedman Jim Moss. At its founding in 1790, the area was still controlled by France and while Blacks weren’t fully enfranchised as citizens, the French government did allow African Americans to own land. Mossville wasn’t allowed to incorporate as a village or town, but it was one of those African American places that governed itself, schooled its children, grew food, fished and built businesses. A century and a half later, Mossville has survived annexation by the United States, the Civil War and Jim Crow rule of the 20th century. But today, the town stands on the brink of disappearing, wiped away by multinational petrochemical companies.

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Heritage of Healing: Ecology of Hope

By Kelly Curry

It’s a bright sunny Sunday and I’m sitting in my homeboy’s restaurant drinking a cup of his rich, black coffee. With ceiling fans whirling overhead, the last customer, of the last rush, hustles out the door. He nods goodbye to him and then turns to me, “What are you doing today?”

I tell him I’m working on a series of interviews with guys who have recently been released from prison and are now working the land and growing food for the community.

“What a joke.” He says, grabbing the remote and pointing it towards the wide flat screen overhead, “Those guys don’t stand a chance,” he mashes the mute button, “why would anybody hire a ex-con when they can have a guy with no record, never did anything and works hard? You know what a thief does? They steal...you know what a junkie does? They use. End of story.”

Communities Unite to Fight Coal in Oakland

Protest at Oakland City Council hearing on coal. ©2015 Eric  K. Arnold

By Eric K. Arnold

Big money, shady dealings, controversial politics, and a unified coalition of local grassroots activists and nationally-known environmental organizations: Oakland’s fight against the construction of a coal export terminal has all the trappings of the kind of movie Hollywood used to make in the post-Vietnam War era, when it still had a moral center. But this is no mere fictional account because real human lives and the survival of a disadvantaged community lie in the balance.

Oxnard Battles Dirty Power Plant

Existing Oxnard Power Plant. Photo courtesy of VLULAC http://vclulac.org

By Lucas Zucker

It would be fitting for Oxnard to be the last stand of fossil fuel power plants in California. Like so many other low-income communities of color who live in the shadow of power plants, oil refineries, and drilling sites, burdened by the nation’s insatiable appetite for dirty energy, the residents of Oxnard are fighting back, pitting high school students from farmworker families against Fortune 500 company lobbyists in a power struggle whose effects could ripple across the state

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Rebecca Solnit on Climate Change

Solnit finds hope in uncertainty. (Courtesy of Jude Mooney Photography)

Interview by Dayton Martindale

"Six years ago, the climate movement decided to stop the Keystone pipeline. As David Roberts at Vox has said, it was not just about changing one pipeline but changing the culture. Watching that process take place up close is boring. There were bad meetings and demonstrations that aren’t always triumphs.

But then you pull back and, oh my God, six years later, we defeated the northern stretch of the pipeline and we’re in a completely different place with the climate movement."

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Connecting Struggles Across Issues and Borders

The roots of the environmental justice movement lie in an archetypical struggle between low-income communities of color and industrial polluters—refineries, incinerators, landfills, and dirty ports, to name a few. In the last few years, leaders of this movement have worked ardently to infuse an environmental politic into racial and economic justice campaigns and to underscore local control of common resources and community-based solutions to social and ecological ills.[1]

Now the fruits of this labor are becoming evident. What was seen as isolated pockets of noxious industrial impacts are now being viewed as symptoms of larger phenomena that create other social inequities. People are connecting the impacts of toxic industry to other injustices, such as forced migration and poverty jobs, and coming together to address these multiple crises.   

On a hot July afternoon in Detroit last summer, over 300 movement organizers from across the United States gathered to plot a course for ecological justice as part of the U.S. Social Forum. “We come from environmental justice communities who have been on the frontlines of the effects of polluting industries like waste incineration. But [we] also come from economic justice struggles... and immigrant [communities that] understand the connection between land and life,” said Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, strategy initiatives director for Movement Generation based in Oakland, California.

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