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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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.