Pollution, Race and the Search for Justice
By Bartees Cox and Shravya Jain
Without a touch of irony, the EPA celebrated Black History Month by publishing a report that finds black communities face dangerously high levels of pollution. African-Americans are more likely to live near landfills and industrial plants that pollute water and air and erode quality of life. Because of this, more than half of the 9 million people living near hazardous waste sites are people of color, and black Americans are three times more likely to die from exposure to air pollutants than their white counterparts.
The statistics provide evidence for what advocates call "environmental racism." Communities of color aren't suffering by chance, they say. Rather, these conditions are the result of decades of indifference from people in power. Last summer Nexus Media went on a tour of the Deep South to talk with these communities about the pollution they deal with every day.
The tour started in St. James Parish in Louisiana, which sits in an area known as "Cancer Alley," a stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where dozens of refineries and industrial facilities are fueling a public health crisis, according to locals. Local leaders changed St. James Parish from a residential zone to an industrial zone with the promise of creating jobs, but 15 industrial installations later, the people in St. James have only gotten a piece of that promise. According to the EPA's National Air Toxics Assessment, St. James and the surrounding areas have elevated cancer rates—in nearby St. John the Baptist Parish, cancer rates are some of the highest in the country.
Frustrated by pollution in his community, Pastor Harry Joseph of the Mount Triumph Baptist Church in St. James has been fighting to prevent the Bayou Bridge pipeline from being built in his community. Last week saw a big win in the fight, with a federal judge revoking the permit.
Rev. Harry Joseph has sued to stop the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Bartees Cox
Down the river in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico, levee-protecting wetlands have been damaged by decades of oil and gas development, which has laced the area with canals for pipelines. Residents are fighting to get industry to pay for the damage and restore the wetlands. Over the past 50 years, the parish has lost more than 1,000 square miles of land to rising seas and coastal erosion.
Lyric Turner, an organizer with the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center, a faith-based NGO, is working to preserve the land in a predominately African-American community in Plaquemines Parish. Turner, who is nineteen, recently flew over the parish to inspect the land loss from above, and she broke down in tears describing what she'd seen. "I plan on coming back 30 years from now with my children, coming back down here, but if nothing is done for us, they can't come back to anything," Turner said.
The third stop on the tour was Africatown, Alabama, home to the last known slave ship to land in America, which arrived 52 years after the slave trade was abolished. When slaves became free, they built stores, farms, schools and raised their families in Africatown. Over the years, they even produced a few notable athletes, including baseball legend Hank Aaron.
But now, residents of Africatown and the surrounding areas say their long tradition of self-sufficiency is at risk. People from across the parish came to a town hall to talk about the impact of decades-old paper mills on their day-to-day life. Ruth Ballard, an Africatown native, has seen four of her siblings die of cancer.
Ruth Ballard of Africatown has lost four of her sibling to cancer. Bartees Cox
"I can't say it was from the chemicals," Ballard said, but she noted her family had no prior history of cancer. "We are pleading for help. [It] should not be that parents bury children. Children bury parents."
Under the leadership of Major Joe Womack, Africatown residents recently filed a lawsuit against International Paper Company (IPC). They say the corporation must be held accountable for the high levels of dioxins and furans — highly toxic compounds shown to be linked to cancer — into the air, ground, and water in amounts that exceeded EPA limits. Even though the IPC relocated nearly 20 years ago, residents argue that the company's impact continues to be felt.
Despite mounting odds, churches, schools and grassroots organizations continue to organize and fight for the right to breathe clean air, drink safe water and live out their lives in the communities they've built without polluting industries knocking on their door. Larger organizations like the NAACP, Partnership for Southern Equity, Clean Air Task Force and US Human Rights Network are stepping in to help these groups.
Organizations working in heavily polluted areas are often underfunded, leaving these communities underserved. And, within the climate movement , communities of color are rarely considered when crafting policies to curb climate change. Large environmental groups have a history of overlooking people on the front lines of the carbon crisis.
By focusing on communities most burdened by carbon pollution and climate change, big green groups can empower people who have been marginalized by society while also cutting dangerous carbon pollution.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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By Maria Trimarchi and Sarah Gleim
If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
<p>Why environmental refugees flee their homes is a complicated mixture of environmental degradation and desperate socioeconomic conditions. People leave their homes when their livelihoods and safety are jeopardized. What effects of climate change put them in jeopardy? Climate change triggers, among other problems, desertification and drought, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/deforestation.htm" target="_blank">deforestation</a>, land degradation, rising sea levels, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/flood.htm" target="_blank">floods</a>, more frequent and more extreme storms, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/earthquake.htm" target="_blank">earthquakes</a>, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/volcano.htm" target="_blank">volcanoes</a>, food insecurity and famine.</p><p>The September <a href="http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2020/09/ETR_2020_web-1.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Ecological Threat Register Report</a>, by the Institute for Economics & Peace, predicts the hardest hit populations will be:</p><ul><li>Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa</li><li>Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan (which are among the world's least peaceful countries)</li><li>Pakistan, Ethiopia and Iran are most at risk for mass displacements</li><li>Haiti faces the highest risk of all countries in Central America and the Caribbean</li><li>India and China will be among countries experiencing high or extreme water stress</li></ul>
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In his latest documentary, My Octopus Teacher, free diver and filmmaker Craig Foster tells a unique story about his friendship and bond with an octopus in a kelp forest in Cape Town, South Africa. It's been labeled "the love story that we need right now" by The Cut.
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