By Susan Delattre
MN350 Communications Team volunteer

Here’s a question that often comes up for folks at MN350 when discussing the climate crisis: Isn’t it too time-consuming to spend time on racial justice, given the severity of the climate crisis and the importance of moving full steam ahead to address it?

The question is relevant in face of the daily revelations of the latest extreme weather events worldwide, the calving of an iceberg twice the size of D.C. in Antarctica, the disappearance of billions of birds from the planet, scientists’ warnings of what’s to come if mitigation doesn’t begin now.

In an effort to address the question, this blog post will give some background on how MN350 approaches the intersectionality of racial and climate justice:

– How we think about it

– Why it’s important

Image: Defender Network.

How we think about the intersectionality of racial and climate justice

The fight against climate change is a fight for justice. People all over the world are feeling the impacts, but the people suffering the most are the ones who have done the least to cause the problem. The work we do – and the way we do it – has to address that injustice. That means listening to the communities who are getting hit and hardest, amplifying the voices that are being silenced and following the leadership of the people on the front lines of the crisis.”

The geographic evidence for the unjust racial balance becomes clear when we look at where African American communities are located. We see that the impacts of climate change fall disproportionately on people of color.

The oil and gas industry dumps 9 million tons of methane and toxic pollutants like benzene into our air each year. The health effects of these toxic pollutants specifically threaten the health of African American communities living near oil and gas facilities by increasing risk of cancer and respiratory disorders. When we ask whether poverty levels might have more to do with the location of these facilities, the NAACP says, “… race – even more than class – is the number one indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in this country.”

Looking at disproportionate impacts here in Minnesota, we see the potential effects of spills and leaks from the tar sands Line 3 pipeline falling directly on Native Americans, whose communities and ricing, hunting, and fishing lands lie in the proposed pathway of the pipeline. MN350 stands with and supports native pipeline resistance.

The impacts of the climate crisis continue long after extreme weather events. Not only did the devastation of Katrina create homelessness for many New Orleans black residents, their displacement continued “through the demolition of affordable housing for high-rise condos.” Lower-income black residents did not have the resources to afford the luxury condos built where their homes once stood.

Why we think the intersectionality of racial and climate justice is important

There’s a strategic answer to why our work on the climate crisis must include a commitment to ending racial injustice: “The climate crisis is not just an environmental issue, or a social justice issue, or an economic issue. It is all of these things at once. The only way we will be strong enough to put pressure on governments and stand up to the fossil fuel industry is if we all work together.”

Everette Thompson of the 350 Local Frontline Working Group puts an historical perspective on this: “History has taught us that no justice movement without communities of color at the center has ever been successful at sustaining victory and from this we know that without the participation and leadership of communities of color we will not mitigate climate change.”

So while working on both racial injustice and the climate crisis is crucial for success, there’s more: This commitment reflects our determination to acknowledge and undo the long, deeply damaging use of power by corporations and governments who have colonized land and people with devastating effect. Our work benefits now and will continue to benefit from the wisdom of those who have experienced these impacts. We stand with them to strive toward a world that survives the industrial revolution and creates justice for us all.

Susan Delattre volunteers for the MN350 Communications Team. She has a background in dance, theater, and storytelling.  She has co-authored two tales, The Woman Who Lost Her Heart and The Woman Who Found Her Voice. She has long enjoyed vegetable gardening and seed saving.