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Why the Voting Rights Act Matters for Environmentalists
Many people who care about climate change understand the corrupting influence of big money in politics and rightfully sound the alarm when elected officials who are supposed to represent their constituents instead protect corporate profits. This is especially true when it comes to big political spenders and climate polluters like the Koch Brothers and the fossil fuel companies like Shell.
The Greenpeace toxic patrol, lead by Damu Smith, protests against the toxics industry with a banner reading: �Environmental Justice Now� which is displayed along with other banners as the activists protest through the street. Photo credit: Robert Visser / Greenpeace
However, voter suppression and disenfranchisement are not as commonly talked about in the environmental community. This despite the fact that denying the right to vote strips people of access to a cornerstone of our democracy and a way to have their interests represented in decisions that impact them—including issues of climate and environmental health.
It’s high time we make those connections.
Climate Justice and Voting Rights
Jacqueline Patterson, environmental and climate justice director at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), explains the intersectionality of race, voting rights, climate justice and health in a fantastic blog here.
In her piece, Patterson calls out the fact that “African American children [are] four times as likely as White American children to die from asthma attacks tied to poor air quality for coal fired plants and other facilities and with the rampant loss of life we are seeing from extreme weather events in our communities and worldwide driven by climate change, which largely results from fossil fuel based energy production.”
Marginalized communities—often communities of color that have been historically disenfranchised—disproportionately suffer environmental harms and often have the fewest resources available to counteract those harms. When we recognize that a healthy environment and a healthy democracy go hand in hand, it’s clear that ensuring the right to vote is critical.
As Patterson puts it:
“… [W]ith entities that have driven the agenda towards stripping voting rights planning on putting $889 million into the coming elections, we must all lean in together on campaign finance reform and voting rights so that communities (and all of us) feel that our votes and our advocacy on issues like net metering, energy efficiency, renewable portfolio standards and indeed relatedly, income inequality and community policing, will actually add value and have a transformational impact.”
Aside from being just plain wrong, disenfranchising impacted communities gives corporations and oligarchs even more power to recklessly plunder the world around us. Equality and justice are part of our shared vision for the future. We must stand with our allies to move that vision forward.
What Happened to the Voting Rights Act?
Fifty years ago, the Civil Rights Movement paved the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Though the fight for justice continues to this day, this was a monumental victory for a movement that was struggling for freedom and self-determination, as it outlawed many of the tools used by racist state and local governments to deny people of color and language minority groups the ability to exercise their right to vote.
However, in June 2013—after 48 years and more than 700 instances of discriminatory impacts prevented by the law between 1982 and 2006 alone—the Supreme Court’s conservative majority struck down key pieces of the Voting Rights Act in a case called Shelby County v. Holder. This decision made it far easier for states to pass discriminatory voting measures and more difficult for people of color and language minority groups to register, vote and have their votes counted equally.
This was a huge blow. In the words of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, “In this 50th anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act, voters are more vulnerable to discrimination than at any time since the law was first passed in 1965.”
Time for Action
In 2015, the right to vote and to have votes counted fairly is still at stake. Though voting has always been one of many ways of building and exercising power and holding elected officials accountable to the communities they are supposed to represent, we are all being called upon (again) to support this most basic right.
Civil rights organizations are leading the charge for a gold standard when it comes to voting rights in the U.S. and it’s up to everyone—members of labor unions, environmental organizations and many others—to stand by these leaders in calling for the U.S. to live up to its promise of democracy for all Americans.
Join the call. Tell your member of Congress that it’s time to restore the Voting Rights Act.
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A central player in the fight against the novel coronavirus is our immune system. It protects us against the invader and can even be helpful for its therapy. But sometimes it can turn against us.
How does our immune system react to the coronavirus?<p>The coronavirus is — like any other virus — not much more than a shell around genetic material and a few proteins. To replicate, it needs a host in the form of a living cell. Once infected, this cell does what the virus commands it to do: copy information, assemble it, release it.</p><p>But this does not go unnoticed. Within a few minutes, the body's immune defense system intervenes with its innate response: Granulocytes, scavenger cells and killer cells from the blood and lymphatic system stream in to fight the virus. They are supported by numerous plasma proteins that either act as messengers or help to destroy the virus.</p><p>For many viruses and bacteria, this initial activity of the immune system is already sufficient to fight an intruder. It often happens very quickly and efficiently. We often notice only small signs that the system is working: We have a cold, a fever. </p>
Is there an immunity? How long does it last?<p>The good news is that it is very likely there is an immunity. This is suggested by the proximity to other viruses, epidemiological data and animal experiments. Researchers <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.13.990226v1" target="_blank">infected four rhesus monkeys,</a> a species close to humans, with SARS-CoV-2. The monkeys showed symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, developed neutralizing antibodies and recovered after a few days. When the recovered animals were reinfected with the virus, they no longer developed any symptoms: They were immune. </p><p>The bad news: It is not (yet) known how long the immunity will last. It depends on whether a patient has successfully developed neutralizing antibodies. Achim Hörauf estimates that the immunity should last at least one year. Within this year, every new contact with the virus acts as a kind of booster vaccination, which in turn might prolong the immunity.</p><p>"The virus is so new that nobody has a reasonable immune response," says the immunologist. He believes that lifelong immunity is unlikely. This "privilege" is reserved for viruses that remain in the body for a long time and give our immune system a virtually permanent opportunity to get to know it. Since the coronavirus is an RNA (and not a DNA) virus, it cannot permanently settle in the body, says Hörauf.</p><p>The Heidelberg immunologist <a href="https://www.klinikum.uni-heidelberg.de/immunologie/immunologie" target="_blank">Stefan Meuer</a> predicts that the novel coronavirus will also mutate like all viruses. He assumes that this could be the case in 10 to 15 years: "At some point, the acquired immunity will no longer be of any use to us because then another coronavirus will return, against which the protection that has now been formed will not help us because the virus has changed in such a way that the antibodies are no longer responsible. And then no vaccination will help either."</p>
How can we take advantage of the antibody response of the immune system?<p>Researchers are already collecting plasma from people who have successfully survived an infection with SARS-CoV-2 and are using it to treat a limited number of patients suffering from COVID-19. The underlying principle: <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-drugs-can-antibodies-from-survivors-help/a-52806428" target="_blank">passive immunization.</a> The studies carried out to date have shown positive results, but they have usually been carried out on only a few people.</p><p>At best, passive immunization is used only when the patient's own immune system has already started to work against the virus, says Achim Hörauf: "The longer you can leave the patients alone with the infection before you protect them with passive immunization, the better." Only through active immunization can one be protected in the long term. At the same time, it is difficult to recognize the right point in time.</p><p>PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are currently used to find out whether a person is infected with the coronavirus. With the help of PCR, it is not possible to tell whether or not there is reproducible viral RNA; it is just a proof of whether the virus is still present, dead or alive. A PCR test cannot tell us whether our immune system has already intervened, i.e. whether we have had contact with the virus in the past, have formed antibodies and are now protected. Researchers are therefore working on tests that check our blood for the presence of antibodies. They are already in use in Singapore, for example, and are nearing completion in the USA. With the help of these tests, it would finally be possible to gain an overview <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/corona-confusion-how-to-make-sense-of-the-numbers-and-terminology/a-52825433" target="_blank">of the unclear case numbers.</a> In addition, people who have developed antibodies against the virus could be used at the forefront of health care, for example. An "immunity passport" is even under discussion.</p>
Is it possible to become infected and/or ill several times with the coronavirus?<p>"According to all we know, it is not possible with the same pathogen," says Achim Hörauf. It is possible to become infected with other coronaviruses or viruses from the SARS or MERS group if their spike proteins look different. "As far as the current epidemic is concerned, it can be assumed that people who have been through COVID-19 will not become ill from it for the time being and will not transmit the virus any further," he says.</p>
How long before you're no longer contagious?<p>A study <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2196-x" target="_blank">carried out on the first coronavirus patients in Germany</a> showed that no viruses that are capable of replication can be found from day eight after the onset of symptoms, even though PCR can still detect up to 100,000 gene copies per sample. This could change the current quarantine recommendations in the future.</p><p>According to the Robert Koch Institute, patients can currently be discharged from hospital if they show two negative PCR samples from the throat within 24 hours. If they have had a severe case of the disease, they should remain in domestic isolation for another two weeks. For each discharge, whether from hospital or home isolation, they should have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours.</p>
Why do people react differently to the virus?<p>While some people get off with a mild cold, others are put on ventilators or even die of SARS-Cov-2. Especially people with <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-who-is-particularly-at-risk-and-why/a-52710881" target="_blank">pre-existing conditions</a> and older people seem to be worst-affected by the virus. Why? This is the hottest question at the moment.</p><p>It will still take a very, very long time to understand the mechanistic, biological basis for why some people are so much more severely affected than others, virologist Angela Rasmussen told <em>The Scientist</em>. "The virus is important, but the host response is at least as important, if not more important," her colleague Stanley Perlman told the magazine.</p><p>Stefan Meuer sees a fundamental survival principle of nature in the different equipment and activity of our immune systems: "If we were all the same, one and the same virus could wipe out the entire human species at once. Due to the genetic range, it is quite normal that some people die from a viral disease while others do not even notice it. "</p><p>Achim Hörauf also suspects immunological variants that could be genetically determined. Since interstitial pneumonia is observed with the coronavirus, the focus is probably on an overreaction of the immune system. However, it is also possible that each person affected may have been loaded with a different dose of the virus, which in turn leads to different outcomes. And finally, it makes a difference how robust the body and lungs are: Competitive athletes simply have more lung volume than long-time smokers. </p>
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