The fight for climate justice is a classic fight between good and evil, complete with global catastrophe, seemingly unstoppable villains, unlikely heroes, and the threat to life as we know it on this planet. The mythological scale of the issue makes it unlike any other we have ever faced, and adds to the difficulty of organizing around it to make any real change. It is a fight that cannot and will not be won
Environmental and Climate Justice
ARTICLES ON ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE
By J.Andrew HoernerClimate change plays favorites. Not by malice or calculation, but without question. This is the lesson of hurricane Katrina. Global warming makes the entire climate system more energetic. As the planet heats up, you see more extreme events of every kind—rainstorms, droughts, hurricanes and tornados, forest fires, and heat waves of deadly intensity. Warming is forecast to cause massive species loss and the death of traditional lifestyles that are closely allied with nature, from the Arctic tundra to the tropics. The 10 hottest years in history have all occurred in the last decade and a half. Global warming and the greenhouse gases that cause it are already outside the bounds of the last 600,000 years of earth history, and the further we move into uncharted territory, the more likely we are to see sudden, drastic, and unpredictable changes in the basic climate pattern of the world.And who pays the greatest price for this climatic destruction? Blacks, Latinos, low-income households, and indigenous peoples. They are communities who cannot afford air conditioning to combat heat waves or property insurance to cover against hurricane and tornado damage; people who spend the most on basic necessities and who have no access to health care when tropical diseases become more widespread. While it’s true that “working people everywhere” are increasingly being affected by the same problems, the reality is that specific communities are still the first and the hardest to be hit.
The U.S. is the wealthiest and most dominant country in the world, yet it can’t keep the lights on in New York City, nor can it provide power in “liberated” Baghdad. Centralized power production based on fossil fuel and nuclear resources has served to centralize political power, to disconnect communities from responsibility and control over energy, and to create a vast wasteful system. We need to recover democracy. And one key element is democratizing power production.
Let’s face it, we are energy junkies. The U.S. is the largest energy market in the world, and we consume one third of the world’s energy resources with five percent of the population. We are undeniably addicted—our economy is based on the burning of dinosaurs and on wasteful production systems. In other words, oil. Ninety-seven percent of the total world oil consumption has been in the past 70 years.
A Look at the Long Road to Environmental Justice (Vol. 10, No. 1: Summer 2003)
This issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment both celebrates the EJ Movement and offers a critique of it. At this critical point in EJ history, RPE takes a big-picture look at the Movement's past, present and future. In the "Looking Back" section, three articles explore the relationship between EJ and the Civil Rights Movement, examining lessons learned from liberation struggles of the 60s and 70s, as well as failures and missteps to avoid. With this hindsight and analysis, the EJ Movement has the potential to be even more powerful and effective than the social change struggles that preceded it. Another article delves into the tensions between EJ and the environmental movement. The section ends with a review of key milestones in the Movement's history.
More than 15 years ago, community residents, ministers, and elected officials stood hand-in-hand with the newly-created West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT) as we convened a press conference to offer a challenge to the most indifferent government entity in New York—the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).
Created in the atmosphere when oxides of nitrogen combine with reactive organic gases in the presence of sunlight. These reactive organic gases are primarily generated by auto emissions, but industrial emissions as well. Once in the lungs, ozone generates a free radical, an oxygen atom, that irritates lung tissue—causing or exacerbating asthma, emphysema, respiratory disease and, over time, reduced lung capacity. Animal studies also indicate that ozone either causes or exacerbates cancers.
Everyone knows carbon monoxide as a colorless, odorless gas that comes out of the tailpipes of cars which, by blocking the delivery of oxygen to the blood, can kill you. But carbon monoxide in smaller doses causes dizziness, impairs central nervous system functioning, deprives the heart muscles of oxygen—leading to heart attacks, and is also a reproductive toxin.