For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
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By Jake Johnson
The Supreme Court late Monday upheld a federal judge's rejection of a crucial permit for Keystone XL and blocked the Trump administration's attempt to greenlight construction of the 1,200-mile crude oil project, the third such blow to the fossil fuel industry in a day—coming just hours after the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the court-ordered shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
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To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
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By John R. Platt
This year has brought us some brutal lessons so far, chief among them the fact that systemic racism drives or amplifies nearly all our societal and environmental ills.
Now is the time to listen to the people affected most by those problems of environmental justice and racism — and the activists working to solve them.
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By Jessica Corbett
At least 40 U.S. climate and environmental advocacy groups on Friday rallied behind two Louisiana Bucket Brigade activists who are facing felony "terrorizing" charges for leaving a box of plastic pellets collected from Texas waters near a coastal Formosa Plastics facility on the doorstep of a fossil fuel lobbyist in December 2019.
On hot summer days, trees help cool city neighborhoods. And during extreme storms, they help absorb stormwater and reduce flooding.
By Kristoffer Tigue
In many ways, Maleta Kimmons defines her neighborhood by what it lacks.
Several houses near her home remain vacant. Last week, she had to drive seven miles just to buy groceries. And two weeks ago, at the height of the Minneapolis protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer on May 25, looters broke into the only pharmacy in the area, forcing the store to close and leaving many in the neighborhood without easy access to life-saving medication like insulin or inhalers for asthma.
St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: "We've Already Been Written Off"<p>Reserve, Louisiana, had an agrarian economy when Robert Taylor was born. His parents worked at a local sugar refinery. "I'm a lifelong resident," he said. "I was born here in 1940, so I've seen some changes." When he was a boy, he said, "I could just walk out my house and go out my backyard and I was in a sugarcane field."</p><p>By the time he was a young man, the petrochemical industry was moving in. He bought a plot of land on the edge of town and built a home, finished by the time his fourth child was born, he said. "I went and got my wife from the hospital and brought her with our child to our new home."</p><p>Around the same time, he said, DuPont began operating a new chemical plant less than a thousand yards from the home.</p><p>St. John the Baptist Parish, which includes Reserve, lies within Louisiana's "Cancer Alley," a stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is cluttered with petrochemical development and the pollution it brings. The Environmental Protection Agency's National Air Toxics Assessment, which uses emissions estimates to model health risks, estimates that the risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and that the <a href="https://www.epa.gov/la/laplace-louisiana-frequent-questions#highest-risks" target="_blank">five census tracts with the highest risk</a> are all in the area.</p><p>But as Taylor watched the development spring up around him, he didn't know any of that. All he knew was that a lot of people seemed to be getting sick. Several family members have died of cancer, he said, while his wife is a cancer survivor. It wasn't until four years ago that Taylor began to connect what he saw with the industry that had developed around him.</p><p>"I came home one night and my wife was so sick, and the odor was so horrible coming from the plant, that I called 911," he said. "And the emergency personnel, they were taken aback by the odor. Of course, all of them was white, none of them lived in the community I lived in," he said. Almost two-thirds of Reserve's residents are black.</p><p>It never occurred to him that other parts of the parish didn't have it as bad. And soon after that incident, the EPA arrived and began monitoring for a chemical, chloroprene, that is used in the nearby plant and is considered by the agency to be a "likely carcinogen."</p><p>"I got the first results of the monitoring, it scared the heck out of me," he said. When the EPA found high levels of the chemical in the air near a school, "that's really what sparked the people to join me and we formed this Concerned Citizens of St. John."</p><p><a href="https://www.ccosj.com/" target="_blank">His group</a> has been trying ever since to get Denka Corporation, which bought the plant from DuPont in 2015, to limit emissions. Denka did not reply to requests for comment from InsideClimate News, but a <a href="http://denka-pe.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/DENKAFAQ.pdf" target="_blank">company website</a> says it has voluntarily reduced emissions and that "there is no evidence to suggest Denka's operations are harmful to local residents."</p><p>Taylor's wife now lives in California, to be away from the pollution. Some of his children have moved out of the parish, too. His great-granddaughter was born recently nearby, "and she has no future here," he said. </p><p>But he feels trapped with his home. Beyond the low value of the property, Taylor said, he wouldn't feel right selling to another family, only to have them live with the same burden.</p><p>"We've already been written off. We're walking dead people," he said. "We've been sacrificed."</p>
Bears Ears National Monument, Utah: Trump Ended Tribal Governance<p>Alfred Lomahquahu helped build the five-tribe <a href="https://bearsearscoalition.org/" target="_blank">coalition</a> that proposed the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.</p><p>The land might seem remote, but the struggle against racial and environmental injustice has been no different for the indigenous people of the Southwest than for those protesting on the streets of the world's cities.</p><p>"People are actually getting united," said Lomahquahu, a Hopi. "That's the main thing that the government is afraid of, that's why they don't want these protests going on."</p><p>The coalition's work focused on protecting red rock canyons and pinion-dotted desert containing hundreds of thousands of archaeological sites and areas of deep cultural significance to the Hopi Nation, Zuni Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Utes.</p><p>"We started speaking with Obama on a one-to-one, government-to-government basis," said Lomahquahu, now community administrator in the Hopi village of Baqavi in northern Arizona. "Part of our strategy was that we were going to work side by side with [the U.S. Bureau of Land Management] and all these other government entities as part of the planning for the whole monument."</p><p>The Obama administration embraced the idea, establishing and empowering a Bears Ears Commission when it <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/12/28/proclamation-establishment-bears-ears-national-monument" target="_blank">created</a> the monument. Lomahquahu was the commission's co-chair until it was abolished when the Trump administration <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-proclamation-modifying-bears-ears-national-monument/" target="_blank">downsized</a> the monument by 85 percent not quite a year later.</p><p>Trump administration officials rebuffed commissioners and other monument supporters, he said. "But we already knew at that point that everything that we achieved was going to go down the drain—and for every other minority too."</p><p>Yet, the experience also showed the tribes, which have historically been at odds with one another, the power of working together, he added. And, later, conservation groups, professional societies, recreation groups and even large companies like Patagonia joined the tribes' campaign to protect the land from mining and pollution.</p><p>"Some people are going to use their privilege in order to help others that aren't privileged," Lomahquhu said. "I think that's something that you really need to look at now ... Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet."</p><p>New uranium mining, coal-fired power and oil and gas development in the region are other threats that the Four Corners region has faced. More recently, Indian Country communities have united against Covid-19.</p><p>"We're just waiting for Trump to leave office," Lomahquhu said, "so we can get back in there and regroup again and bring all entities back together."</p>
The Rockaways, Queens, N.Y.: Young Leaders of Color Building Resilient Communities<p>Milan Taylor was 21 when he founded the <a href="https://rytf.org/" target="_blank">Rockaway Youth Task Force</a> in 2011, to sponsor community clean-ups and encourage voter registration in this outlying neighborhood on a barrier island in Queens.</p><p>A year later, after Hurricane Sandy left homes four- to 10-feet underwater and knocked out power for days, Taylor found himself helping to lead rescue and relief efforts in a neighborhood that was 60 percent African American and Hispanic and the poverty line was 20 percent higher than the state average.</p><p>He mobilized hundreds of volunteers in a <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/hurricane-sandy-far-rockaway_b_2109224?guccounter=1" target="_blank">widespread effort</a> to assess the needs and deliver food and medications to hundreds of home-bound community members, including elderly and disabled residents. As they meticulously canvassed high-rise apartment buildings, the major relief organizations and the NYPD seemed strangely missing in action.</p><p>"Sandy gave us the exposure that [the Rockaway Youth Task Force] needed to grow," said Taylor, now 31 and the group's executive director.</p><p>And a good thing that is, with climate scientists predicting sea level rise of at least a foot by 2050, which will make the Rockaways more prone to climate change-fueled flooding and storm surges than they already are. </p><p>"What we're trying to accomplish as an organization is to build more resilient communities," Taylor said, "We want to be there, whether it's a disaster brought about by climate change or even human disasters"—a reference to the ongoing protests for racial justice and an end to police violence. </p><p>Taylor said that it is important for the task force, made up largely of young people of color, to be "led by our own constituency, meaning that those who are directly impacted decide which direction and which campaigns we take on as an organization." </p><p>Despite being told after Sandy that his organization couldn't grow, he said, "We're still here ... still doing work, still helping our communities, and still training the next generation of leaders."</p><p>He noted that one former RYTF organizer, Khaleel Anderson, is now <a href="https://khaleel4thepeople.com/" target="_blank">running</a> for the New York State Assembly. </p><p>In the future, Taylor said, he hopes the broader climate movement embraces his work with the task force, which recognizes how race, gender and socioeconomic factors contribute to environmental injustice. "The conversation of Black lives mattering isn't just limited to police violence," Taylor said. "It also extends to climate justice." </p>
Los Angeles: Latino Children in Boyle Heights Play in Lead-Contaminated Soil<p>Idalmis Vaquero sees such joy in the exuberance of a neighborhood boy named R.J.</p><p>The six-year-old runs to her to show off his newest feat—a backflip—on the dusty patch of grass outside of their aging apartment complex owned by the Los Angeles Housing Authority. </p><p>Yet there is a dark contradiction between the glee of this boy and the reality of life in the shadow of a lead recycling plant that has poisoned the ground that dirties R.J.'s bare feet.</p><p>The boy, like so many other children and families living in this neighborhood, is exposed every day to the high concentrations of lead that have contaminated this mostly Latino community just southeast of downtown Los Angeles.</p><p>The Exide Technologies recycling plant and its predecessors emitted lead, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants, leaving homes, apartments, schools, parks and day care centers with dangerously high levels of lead contaminated soil.</p><p>Vaquero, 26, a third-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, grew up in public housing in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, where she still lives and where her parents settled after emigrating from Mexico nearly 30 years ago.</p><p>There has been little change in her neighborhood since she was a child. Factories, smoke stacks and exhaust-belching diesel trucks define the community more than grassy parks and welcoming recreation centers.</p><p>So she worries about the future of R.J. and other children.</p><p>"Living here will have an impact on the quality of life for the rest of their lives," she said. "It makes me mad that our lives are not considered equal when it comes to addressing environmental hardships."</p><p>As many as 250,000 residents, mostly working-class Latinos, face a chronic health hazard from exposure to airborne lead and arsenic that subsequently settled into the soil from the recycling plant, according to <a href="http://www.aqmd.gov/docs/default-source/exide/exideab2588hra15jan13_15may13_cor.pdf?sfvrsn=2" target="_blank">a 2013 health risk assessment by the South Coast Air Quality Management District</a>.</p><p>Lead contamination has been found in children growing up in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered Exide battery plant, <a href="https://news.usc.edu/156523/lead-in-baby-teeth-exide-battery-plant/" target="_blank">a USC study found</a>. Lead is a neurotoxin, and there is no level that is considered safe in humans.</p><p>The 15-acre recycling facility operated in the industrial city of Vernon for decades with minimal regulatory oversight. It churned out poisonous pollution around the clock seven days a week as the lead from 25,000 old car batteries was melted down every day for use in producing new batteries.</p><p>The facility received more than 100 environmental violations for such things as lead and acid leaks and maintaining an overflowing pond of toxic sludge.</p><p>The Exide plant was shut down in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Justice, which also ordered the company to pay $50 million to clean up the site and nearby neighborhoods. The state later pledged $75 million for the ongoing cleanup, which is being overseen by the <a href="https://dtsc.ca.gov/exide-home/" target="_blank">California Department of Toxic Substances Control</a>.</p><p>The cleanup has been painfully slow, which Vaquero takes as yet another signal that her neighborhood and neighbors are just a forgotten footnote in a city defined by the glitz of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. </p><p>Vaquero majored in environmental studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she made the decision to stand up for her community and others like hers.</p><p>She described <a href="https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6945854-Vaquero-Paper-Fighting-for-Environmental-Health.html" target="_blank"> the environmental injustices in her community in a 2016 thesis</a>: </p><p>"The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices," she wrote. "The community's power and resilience will prevail and environmental justice will be served to Southeast Los Angeles."</p>
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Climate movement, we have a problem.
We've been marching and speaking out demanding justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless other victims of white supremacy.
1. What Our Black Colleagues Want the Rest of Us to Know About Culture<p><strong>Black People Are Not a Monolith</strong></p><p>"Whether in terms of appearance, experience, personal interests or opinion, Black people are not a monolith. We come in many shades, shapes, and colors. Our hair comes in many textures and styles. We represent different opinions and interests. We represent a myriad of cultures and community experiences. These are not pop cultural trends, but are reflective of who we are as individuals. While there may be some common themes, just as with any culture, Black people are still individuals and should be recognized as such." </p><p><strong>We Have Experienced Racism </strong></p><p>"Most of us have experienced racism in some shape or form. Whether it's a derogatory name, gaslighting, second-guessing our success as the result of external charity rather than individual prowess, or a denial of history (statements like "slavery wasn't that bad"), it's there. It manifests in many different ways, and we learn to recognize it at an early age. Our reactions to this reality are as diverse as we are as individuals. Each of us are experts on our individual experience and, while there may be some overlap, our individual experience it is not necessarily fully representative of the Black experience. Also, we don't all necessarily agree on everything nor do we all know each other." </p><p><strong>It's Not Our Job to Educate You</strong></p><p>"As a Black person, it is not our job to educate you on the Black experience or race. Having conversations on race are fine (and necessary), but recognize it is not something you are owed. If we choose to engage, understand that it is often through mixed emotion of frustration, anger, and microaggressions. Also recognize that if we do choose to engage with you, it is often a good sign not that you've gotten it all right, but that we think there is hope for you before you're too far gone. Appreciate that."</p><p><strong>Black Comes in All Shades</strong></p><p>"People who are of a lighter skin aren't necessarily mixed. Black comes in all shades."</p><p><strong>Black Culture Is Not for Your Entertainment</strong></p><p>"My culture is not for your entertainment. I have spent a lifetime fighting stereotypes so I don't wear straight back cornrows or outfits that show my shape. I stay away from color and wear blue, black, and gray. We are taught that our natural way of being is ghetto. Then other races co-opt our style, music, and slang, and it is considered 'pop culture' and 'fashion forward.'"</p>
2. About Privilege<p><strong>White Privilege Is a Symptom of Racism</strong></p><p>"Recognize your privilege. Just a short time ago, most Americans thought that police killings of Black Americans were isolated events. Now, most agree that there is a systemic problem. White privilege is a symptom of racism. It is critical for white people to have uncomfortable conversations about race so that they can recognize their privilege and understand how they benefit from a society that is profoundly separate and unequal. Just as people of color did nothing to deserve unequal treatment, white people did not 'earn' disproportionate access to compassion and fairness."</p><p><strong>White Privilege Means We Carry a Burden That You Do Not</strong></p><p>"The fact that you just recently started thinking deeply about these issues is a sign of your white privilege. I've had to discuss racial injustice at my dinner table for my entire life, not just the last few weeks. When you grow tired of the news stories about racial injustice, you can unplug and go for a run or walk your dog in the park. Those same innocent activities can turn deadly for me, so I don't have the 'privilege' to unplug."</p>
3. About Ally-ship<p><strong>You Need to Do the Work Yourself</strong></p><p>"I am tired and trying to stay afloat, so I can't always be a source for your political education. Being an ally requires extensively educating yourself on colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, racism, and anti-Blackness. Part of the work is finding these resources with your community."</p><p><strong>Ally-ship Means Asking Hard Questions</strong></p><p>"Solidarity is advocating for material change in our fight to end all state sanctioned violence. Questions to ask yourself: Are you willing to relinquish your comfort and power? What are you willing to risk? Are you prepared to be on the frontline? Why now? Has your guilt brought you here? How will you keep the momentum? What does ally-ship mean? Are you ready to interrogate your own internalized anti-Blackness?"</p><p><strong>We Are Not Here for Your Photo Op</strong></p><p>You will not exploit or destroy my relationships in my community. I will NEVER let my people be a photo opportunity for your grant project, board of directors meetings, or anything else. I can make an introduction but you need to put in the work because we believe in transformational relationships, not transactional ones."</p><p><strong>Words Matter</strong></p><p>"When listening to our liberal and progressive white allies speak and the mainstream media, they have a way of using verbiage and unwittingly pushing dog whistles that sound like bullhorns to the Black community. Words matter and how things are framed matter. If there is a group of Black people with guns, they are 'thugs' and 'gangs.' When they are white they are a 'militia.' When white people are suspected of committing a crime the word 'allegedly' is used 99.9 percent of the time. George Floyd was murdered by the police because someone called them because he passed a fake $20 in a store. He has never been convicted of that. He 'allegedly' passed a fake $20 in a store. And by not using this word, you are assigning guilt that is not appropriate and it criminalizes him to justify his death."</p>
4. About Racism and White Supremacy<p><strong>Racism Is Traumatic</strong></p><p>"The shock that many of you experienced after watching George Floyd's murder on camera is reflective of the shock that many in our communities live with every day. The fatigue some of you have expressed from a few weeks of racial upheaval — we've lived with that and then some for generations. We've lived with the frustration of communities for decades screaming that this was happening to us, only to have society turn a blind eye. We live with this trauma. And we still show up to work. We still achieve. We still smile, despite the pain. Recognize this — and not for sympathy, but for solidarity."</p><p><strong>Our Lives Always Matter</strong></p><p>"Black lives don't only matter when we are already dead. Our lives always matter. Solidarity is redistributing your wealth and resources. Organize for the liberation of all Black people globally. Believe Black people. Protect all Black lives."</p><p><strong>Use Your Privilege to Fix Racism</strong></p><p>"We don't directly blame you for racism; we know this has been around long before you were born. But please realize you have privilege due to racism and though you didn't start it, you have the power to fix it."</p>
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By Tara Lohan
With its white-sand beaches and glittery high-rises, Miami is still a vacation hotspot. But lapping at those shores is another reality. The city is also a "possible future Atlantis, and a metonymic stand-in for how the rest of the developed world might fail — or succeed — in the climate-changed future," wrote Miami journalist Mario Alejandro Ariza in his forthcoming book, Disposable City: Miami's Future on the Shores of Climate Catastrophe.
Flooding in Miami's Brickell neighborhood in 2017. Phillip Pessar / CC BY 2.0<p>Ariza explains how decades of racist policies and real-estate practices have pushed communities of color away from the beach and the newly emerging suburbs. They ended up sandwiched in between, in an area of high ground that now looks enticing to developers.</p><p>This new pressure is increasing gentrification in communities already barely surviving. It's liable to get worse, too, Ariza explains. Between $15-$23 billion worth of property may be underwater in 30 years. The market has yet to broadly reflect that, but developers are building on borrowed time, even as the lower-income communities are already feeling the pinch.</p><p>"Everything we know about climate change indicates that it pulls at society's loose ends," said Ariza. These cracks in vulnerability could become chasms if the right policies aren't enacted as the city works to mitigate and adapt.</p><p>By the end of <em>Disposable City, </em>it's likely readers won't be wildly optimistic about Miami's chances. But they will be armed with a deeper view of what's at stake and the complexities of trying to solve an environmental and social challenge of this magnitude. Even if the city itself does everything right, it still needs the state of Florida to embrace climate reality and the rest of the world to meet science-based targets for greenhouse gas reductions. Efforts are underway, including a <a href="https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article243276326.html" target="_blank">newly released draft plan</a> from the Army Corps of Engineers to spend $4.6 billion on sea walls and other projects to protect businesses and homes from storm surges. But much more will be needed.</p><p>In Miami these next decades will be fight or flight. Or a combination of both. And he muses on what that would look like. And feel like. Ariza himself is an immigrant, having come to Miami from the Dominican Republic as a kid. He already carries the grief of having left a homeland — a feeling that half the city's population also knows intimately.</p><p>"Now we have to face the fact that climate change may well force us to scatter again," he wrote.</p><p>The end of the book turns from this hard reality to a future vision as Ariza shifts to a fictional envisioning. No spoilers, but it's safe to say Miami in 2100 will be a changed place. And that's at least one thing we know for sure about this warming world — it is a changing one.</p><p>Ariza's deep dive into Miami is an intricate look at <em>his</em> vulnerable city, but it's likely to get readers thinking about their own. What will your hometown look like in 80 years? What do you want it to look like? What will you do to make that hope a reality?</p>