This blog was written by Amelia Shenstone, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.Guest Blog | August 29, 2015
At the Climate Justice Convergence at Dillard University on the occasion of 10 years passing since Hurricane Katrina, a who’s who of environmental justice “marathoners” addressed a new generation of environmental justice leaders. This powerful event was part of the #GulfSouthRising commemorative events I was fortunate to attend.
In a compelling presentation, Dr. Robert Bullard, known as the “father of environmental justice,” explained why people of color are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the South. With a series of maps, he connected the South’s history of segregation and Jim Crow laws with the growing population of people of color, the noticeable trend of ill health in Southern states, the concentration of high utility bills in the region, the disproportionate number of billion-dollar natural disasters here, and the lag in policy to adapt to and address climate change. Dr. Bullard pointed to the past work of environmental justice leaders as one of the foundations for the #blacklivesmatter movement, and the current urgency for young leaders of color, especially Historically Black College and University (HBCU) students, to step up for climate justice.
“There’s a propaganda incubator in this country that’s going around saying that climate change is invented, black people shouldn’t get involved… it’s funded by the industries that are poisoning our people,” said Dr. Bullard.
Colette Pichon-Battle of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy lifted up the voices and expertise of the communities most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate change.
“People of color are talking about climate change. They may not use the technical language, but they’re talking about different insects being present, about how the kind of rain we’re seeing is different… where I’m from outside New Orleans, we’re used to water, but folks are noticing that the floods are higher than ever before.”
Rev. Tyronne Edwards of the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center echoed that oystermen, fishermen, and others who work outdoors, many of whom in the Gulf South are Black and overlooked in media about Katrina, are well aware of climate impacts, but that a misinformation campaign backed by polluters is keeping communities disconnected from solutions. “It’s important that our young leaders get the correct information so they can lead us,” he exhorted.
Other key speakers included Monique Harden of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Jabari Mickles of Dream Defenders, and Aaron Mair, recently elected the first African American President of the Sierra Club. The event was anchored by Dr. Beverly Wright of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, housed at Dillard, an HBCU in New Orleans.
The speakers urged university students and environmental advocacy groups to find ways to connect with community leaders, who have indigenous expertise about solutions for their communities, and share tools to bring those voices to decision-making tables to create communities that are not just resilient, but resistant to injustice and disproportionate climate impacts.