Unequal impact: The deep links between racism and climate change

by Beth Gardiner, Yale Environment 360


Elizabeth Yeampierre, co-chair of Climate Justice Alliance, shares the correlation between the United States’ racist past and the current climate crisis

  • Climate movements typically center around conversation and protecting wildlife while not advocating for the protection of Black and Brown people who are directly impacted by climate change and environmental racism
  • Climate change stems all the way back to colonial times, where indigenous lands were exploited and used for extraction of natural resources in the name of capitalism
  • The treatment of Black and Indigenous people present-day can be compared to the early days of America, where enslaved people were given poor housing and food
  • The communities impacted by COVID are the same ones experiencing pollution, and they will continue to feel the worst effects of the climate crisis
  • Policies, such as the Green New Deal, must include frontline leaders and frontline communities in order to better serve all people
  • A just transition of labor must look at the process and impacts of achieving sustainability to ensure that frontline communities are not experiencing more pollution in pursuit of sustainability

The Climate Center’s urgent climate policy goals will only be achieved if we also close the climate gap and ensure that communities of color are no longer disproportionately harmed. There cannot be climate justice without racial justice.

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Bold and just climate policy needed now: Support Climate-Safe California

The COVID-19 crisis, while devastating on many levels, has also increased trust in science and the role of government, essential to reversing the climate crisis.

We are (re)learning that we ignore science at our peril and advance preparation saves lives. As a society, COVID-19 is giving us a taste of what’s to come if we do not take significant steps to flatten the climate curve very soon.

Your generous gift today supports The Climate Center’s urgent efforts to flatten the climate curve fast, as the latest science demands.

Working from home–and in too many cases, losing jobs and having no options but to remain at home– has led to projections that global emissions could drop by more than 5.5% this year.

But even a 10% drop would result in warming emissions that are “higher than in any year before 2010. Emissions cuts in 2020 alone will, therefore, have little impact, unless they are followed by longer-lasting changes.”

COVID has spread lightning fast and unemployment has quickly skyrocketed. Similarly, the effects of climate change are hitting us harder and faster than ever before

With 9 of 15 global tipping points already activated, what we do today can either unleash an inhospitable hothouse Earth or secure a climate-safe future.

Although numerous organizations have been working on climate for many years, the speed at which the crisis is growing surpasses current efforts. We urgently need to make climate policy progress commensurate with the worsening climate reality.

Per the latest science, massive reductions of warming emissions with the beginning of drawdown from the atmosphere are required by 2030 to prevent catastrophic impacts. Our only hope is to enact bold policies now, not decades later.

The Climate Center’s new Climate-Safe California campaign aims to do just this.

Climate-Safe California is a powerful, comprehensive, and unique science-driven campaign, filling a major gap within today’s climate movement.

We must ensure that California commits soon to achieving drawdown greater than emissions (net-negative emissions) and resilient communities by 2030.

The time is now to enact the bold climate policies required by science to avoid catastrophic impacts, starting here in the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Establishing this critical deadline sets the stage for enacting a range of new policies to achieve massive greenhouse gas reductions, major increases in sequestration on working and natural lands with biodiversity and resilience co-benefits, and significant support to all of California’s communities to plan for and enact resilience measures.

Achieving Climate-Safe California’s vision is not a question of IF or WHEN. We have no choice but to make this a reality now to secure a healthy, vibrant future for all.

We are only as resilient as the most vulnerable, another stark lesson from COVID-19.

Indeed, we will only achieve these urgent goals by committing to enacting climate-safe policies that ensure lower-income communities are no longer disproportionately harmed. We understand that there cannot be climate justice without racial justice. 

We also understand that we will only achieve these urgent goals by securing a just transition for workers whose livelihoods depend on fossil fuel industries.

Your support of Climate-Safe California will help ensure that state policy timelines are accelerated while securing an equitable and just transition to a clean energy future.

As goes California, so goes the world. Climate-Safe California will catalyze global action to help secure a healthy, vibrant future for all.

As Congressman Jared Huffman, who enthusiastically joined almost 200 other endorsers, wrote:

 “I applaud Climate-Safe California for recognizing that solving our climate crisis requires setting the bar high enough to actually meet the challenge. I endorse this effort to keep California on that course, leading our country and the world toward climate solutions.”

COVID-19 has demonstrated that both individual actions and coordinated government action are essential. Governments have acted unusually fast, investing unbudgeted trillions into addressing the pandemic. The same must happen to solve the climate crisis.

Accelerating government policy timelines and increasing investments are key to channeling market forces that will ultimately allow everyone to participate in the clean energy economy.

Key to changing government policies is building a cross-sectoral, unified movement focused on timely climate action. Collectively, we will ensure that our leaders in Sacramento do the right thing.

Toward that end, The Climate Center team is working to secure endorsements, establish a diverse statewide alliance that bridges climate action silos, build clout in Sacramento, engage experts to develop policy pathway options, mobilize climate opinion leaders, and develop grassroots partners in key geographies of the state.  

We’ve met with almost 100 organizations, experts, and opinion leaders. We’ve hired specialists in policy and labor. We’ve secured support in the Governor’s revised budget to help local communities plan for clean energy and backup storage in anticipation of expanding fire seasons.

We’re gaining momentum and we need your help to keep moving forward!

Join us today by making your most generous gift to Climate-Safe California. Our future depends on it!

At a time when many nonprofits and businesses are cutting back due to COVID-19, our board recently recommitted to growing The Climate Center’s extraordinary efforts.

Thanks to you, we successfully demonstrated that speed and scale greenhouse gas reductions are achievable in California.

With your help, The Climate Center played a key role in facilitating the phenomenal growth of Community Choice Energy from just two agencies five years ago to 21 today—now serving 88% fossil-fuel-free energy to 11 million Californians, one-quarter of the state

We are building on this amazing success by collaborating with a wide range of interests from business and local government to labor and environmental justice groups across the state.

Together we will reshape our future—the healthy, vibrant, equitable, and climate-safe future that is still possible if we act today! 

“Climate-Safe California is the bold pathway that leads toward shared prosperity on a healthy planet – exactly what California and the world need now,” as L. Hunter Lovins, President of Natural Capitalism Solutions and Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder noted in her endorsement.

Please dig deep and be as generous as possible with a gift today (or mail to PO Box 3785, Santa Rosa, CA 95402). And please endorse Climate-Safe California today if you haven’t yet!

With your support, we will continue to advance our work to secure a climate-safe future for all. Thank you!

The Climate Movement’s silence on racism

by Emily Atkin, Heated


As protests and demonstrations occur throughout the world in response to the murder of George Floyd, some environmental groups have responded in solitary while many other activists and groups have remained silent.  

  • Groups such as the Sierra Club and white climate activists like Greta Thunberg have all spoken out in solidarity. However, other activists like Al Gore or groups such as Citizens Climate Lobby have remained silent on the issue.
  • Liz Havstad, the executive director of Hip Hop Caucus, says it doesn’t make sense for climate groups not to stand in solidarity:

“The burden of the issues that you’re working on are falling harder on all people color, and particularly Black people…Unless you’re willing to solve the roots of that disproportionate impact, you’re not solving anything at all.”

  • The lack of support for the black community plays a role in why black people are underrepresented in mainstream environmental groups, are less likely to participate in outdoor recreation, and are less likely to label themselves as environmentalists
  • Various environmental groups do not see racial inequality as an intersectional movement and have been reluctant to address racism within the climate movement

The impacts of climate change are hitting harder and faster than expected, posing grave threats to human health and well-being. Lower-income communities are disproportionately affected by exposure to pollution from our fossil fuel economy. Climate Justice involves a climate safe future for all people from all backgrounds and neighborhoods.

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Coronavirus is not just a health crisis — it’s an environmental justice crisis


There are large disparities in COVID-19 deaths among people who have historically faced environmental justice issues within the US. 

  • African-American communities have historically been disproportionately housed near sources of large pollution, particularly in the South, leading these communities to develop asthma, cancers, and other respiratory problems
  • This life long exposure has lead to more COVID-19 deaths as poor air quality increases fatality from the virus 
  • Health experts particularly worried that overcrowded housing, lack of health insurance, and workplace exposure in jobs like agriculture will cause the number of cases to skyrocket within some latinx communities 
  • Lack of access to safe drinking water and underfunded health care are issues impacting infection rates within the Navajo Nation
  • Political scientist Fatemeh Shafiei, director of environmental studies at Spelman College, has found that low-income residents and people of color are disproportionately exposed to health-threatening environments in their homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces throughout their lives
  • Eliminating pollution exposure, and ultimately structural inequalities within the country, would dramatically improve the health and safety of these marginalized communities and lower the risk of COVID-related deaths

Lower-income communities are disproportionately affected by exposure to pollution from our fossil fuel economy through proximity to oil and gas wells, oil refineries, major highways, and other industrial areas. The Climate Center works to secure a healthy, vibrant, and equitable future for everyone in these communities

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Offshore drilling plan under fire: Zinke may have violated law, senator says

by Sabrina Shankman, InsideClimate News

It took less than a week for cracks to develop in the Trump administration’s plan to open almost the entire offshore area of the United States to oil and gas drilling.
On Tuesday evening—five days after releasing a draft five-year leasing plan that is unprecedented in scale—Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on Twitter that he was removing Florida from the plan.

“After talking with @FLGovScott, I am removing #Florida from the draft offshore plan,” he tweeted. In another tweet, he wrote, “Local voice matters.”

That decision set off an uproar along the coasts—and it could open Zinke’s plan to legal challenges, as well as political ones.

On Thursday, the top Democrat on a U.S. Senate committee that oversees the Interior Department said Zinke’s actions may have violated requirements of a law governing federal offshore areas. She requested that all correspondence between the department and the State of Florida regarding the drilling plan be turned over to the committee for review.

Ten U.S. Senators from New England also introduced legislation Thursday to bar offshore drilling along their stretch of the East Coast. Officials from New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon and Washington have voiced opposition to drilling off their coasts, and lawmakers from both political parties have called for their states to be removed from Zinke’s plan.
Zinke’s startling concession to Scott was seen by many as a politically inspired gift aimed at bolstering his chances of being elected to the U.S. Senate, where President Donald Trump is keen to rebuild the razor-thin Republican majority. Trump reportedly would like Scott to run against the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a vocal opponent of drilling.

The extensive Zinke plan, which called for opening more than 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas leasing and scheduling 47 lease sales between 2019 and 2024, already was ripe for lawsuits, according to David Hayes, who was the Interior Department’s deputy secretary and chief operating officer at points in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

“This proposal mirrors past proposals that have run into a buzzsaw of state opposition,” he said. Zinke may have made things even worse for himself, though. His decision to remove Florida “should have his lawyers cringing,” Hayes said. “It smacks of an impulsive, undisciplined, arbitrary process.”

Part of Zinke’s justification for taking Florida off the table was that it “is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

California Rep. Ted Lieu was among those on Twitter to take umbrage at that. “Taking Florida off the table for offshore drilling but not California violates the legal standard of arbitrary and capricious agency action,” Lieu wrote in a tweet. “California and other coastal states also rely on our beautiful coasts for tourism and our economy. I believe courts will strike this down.”

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell said Thursday that Zinke’s “decision to give a last-minute exemption to Florida while ignoring over 10 other states who followed the proper legal procedures is a waste of taxpayer dollars and may violate the requirements of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.” As the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she requested all correspondence between the Interior Department and the State of Florida regarding the drilling plan “so we can conduct our oversight responsibilities.”

On the East Coast, Maine Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, co-sponsored the legislation to block drilling off New England. “The waters off Maine’s coast provide a healthy ecosystem for our state’s fisheries and support a vigorous tourism industry, both of which support thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in revenue for Maine each year,” they wrote in a statement. “With our environment so closely tied to the vitality of Maine’s economy, we cannot risk the health of our ocean on a shortsighted proposal that could impact Maine people for generations.”

An earlier letter signed by 37 Democratic senators and sent to Zinke on Tuesday described the draft proposal as “an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input” and said “we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety and economic security for the interests of the oil industry.”

The plan was issued on the heels of the Trump administration’s move to weaken oil spill safeguards that were put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Those protections “really didn’t go far enough,” said Oceana Campaigns Director Diane Hoskins. “Now the administration wants to roll these existing safeguards back while expanding the areas where companies can drill. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

What Can States Do?

Five-year leasing plans are federally required to consider the laws, goals and policies of affected states. “These are factors that must be considered,” Hayes said. “But it doesn’t mean [governors] have a veto authority.”

But, should Zinke continue against the states’ wishes, they do have legal options, said Sam Ori, executive director at the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.
While the federal government controls the waters of the Outer Continental Shelf, where any drilling would take place, the states have jurisdiction over their coasts and the first several miles of ocean. That means they could stand in the way of any pipelines needed to bring oil and gas resources onshore.

The Coastal Zone Management Act also allows states to slow the leasing process from the get-go and would provide ample opportunity for lawsuits, “forcing oil companies to tie up capital for decades with no clear return,” Ori wrote in an analysis for Forbes.
With multiple phases of environmental review cooked into the federally mandated process for approving the plan, environmental groups have time to sue and slow the process further.

Given the scope of the plan, Ori said the administration must have known it was unlikely for it to go into effect as written. “It doesn’t seem to me to be focused on necessarily achieving things that are realistic,” he said.

Hayes agreed. “This is a completely unrealistic pander to those who are pushing to drill anywhere, all the time, regardless of environmental sensitivity,” he said.

A Long Road Ahead

Getting a new five-year plan implemented is easier said than done. The federal Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires a series of environmental reviews and public comment periods, meaning no lease sales will be happening soon.

Here’s what has to happen:

  • The draft proposed plan was published on Monday in the Federal Register. That kicked off a 60-day public comment period. Next week, the first public hearings will be held in Annapolis, Maryland, and Jackson, Mississippi, and hearings continue through February, with meetings across the affected states.
  • At the same time, the Bureau of Oceans and Energy Management (BOEM) has to prepare a draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, which will look at any environmental issues associated with the planned offshore drilling areas.
  • BOEM will then review and analyze the comments on the draft proposed plan, which will get incorporated into an updated plan proposal and draft environmental impact statement. Then there’s a 90-day public comment period.
  • After that, BOEM will review and analyze all of the comments that come in and prepare a final environmental impact statement and a final five-year leasing plan. Those documents go to the president and Congress for at least 60 days, after which the Interior secretary can approve the final plan and issue a record of decision.

“The entire process usually takes two or three years,” Hayes said. “BOEM’s website optimistically indicates that the agency expects to issue a final decision by the end of 2019.”

One thing this timeline doesn’t take into account: state opposition and lawsuits. Federal law requires that regulators take the opinions and concerns of states into account. Based on the response so far, that could spell trouble.

Are Oil Companies Even Interested?

When Zinke released the new plan last week, he was delivering on a promise Donald Trump had made early in his presidency: to replace the existing five-year leasing plan developed by the Obama administration and encourage the exploration and development of oil in the federally owned waters of the Outer Continental Shelf.
In theory, this plan could bring drilling rigs to the waters of the Eastern Seaboard, up the Pacific Coast, into the Alaskan Arctic and through the eastern waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which have been off-limits in the past. But will it?

Ori said it’s unlikely. “Oil companies have lots of places they can invest, most obviously onshore in Texas, North Dakota and Colorado—the U.S. shale resources,” he said.When Zinke announced the offshore drilling plan, he said he aimed to bring federal revenue from lease sales back to 2008 levels, when the government brought in a record $18 billion as it added new leases in Alaska and the central Gulf of Mexico. But that year was an anomaly, Ori said. From 2000 to now, most years have brought in $4 billion to $6 billion. That year, a perfect storm of high oil prices and dwindling available reserves in politically stable countries made the U.S. lease sale particularly appealing.

“You have to think of all the combination of things that existed back then. None of those things exist anymore,” he said.

With lower oil prices acting as a deterrent for exploring new areas, Ori said, the far more logical place for companies to turn is onshore shale deposits, where there is existing infrastructure and proven reserves.


Environmental justice grabs a megaphone in the climate movement

by Phil Mckenna, InsideClimate News

Thenjiwe McHarris of the Movement for Black Lives leaned into the microphone and, with a finger pointed firmly at her audience, delivered a powerful message to the 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., for the People’s Climate March.
“There is no climate justice without racial justice,” McHarris boomed as the temperature reached 91 degrees, tying a record for late April. “There is no climate justice without gender justice. There is no climate justice without queer justice.”
For a movement historically led by white males who have rallied around images of endangered polar bears and been more inclined to talk about parts per million than racial discrimination, McHarris’s message was a wake-up call.

“We must respect the leadership of black people, of indigenous people, of people of color and front line communities who are most impacted by climate change,” she said. “This must be a deliberate, strategic choice made as a means to not only end the legacy of injustice in this country, but an effort to protect the Earth.”

From the Native American standoff against a crude oil pipeline at Standing Rock to leadership at this year’s United Nations climate conference by Fiji, a small island nation whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise, 2017 was the year the needs of the dispossessed washed like a wave to the forefront of the environmental movement.

The Quinault Indian Nation led a successful fight against a large new oil export terminal in Hoquiam, Washington, where the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of a coalition of environmental groups led by the tribe in January.

California will invest $1 billion in rooftop solar on the apartments of low-income renters after Communities for a Better Environment, a group dedicated to reducing pollution in low-income communities and communities of color, pushed for the legislation.

When the EPA tried to delay new regulations against smog, states, public health advocates, environmental organizations and community groups including West Harlem Environmental Action sued, and the EPA withdrew its attempted delay.
At a recent EPA hearing on the Clean Power Plan, nearly a dozen representatives from local NAACP chapters testified on how low-income communities and communities of color would be disproportionately impacted by pollution from coal-fired power plants if the Obama-era policies to reduce power plant emissions were repealed.

Democratic lawmakers introduced new legislation on environmental justice in October that would codify an existing, Clinton-era executive order into law. The bill would add new protections for communities already impacted by pollution by accounting for cumulative emissions from existing facilities when issuing new permits. The bill likely haslittle chance of passing in the current, Republican-led House and Senate, but it could inspire similar action at the state level. One week after the bill was introduced, Virginia established its own environmental justice council charged with advising the governor on policies to limit environmental harm to disadvantaged communities.
“We are at a point where we have crossed the threshold beyond which we can not return to a period where environmental justice is not a part of the conversation,” Patrice Simms, vice president of litigation for the environmental law organization Earthjustice, said.

Driven by pollution concerns, advocates from low-income and minority communities across the country are providing a powerful, new voice on environmental issues.
“I didn’t become an environmentalist because I was worried about global warming [or] because I was concerned about penguins or polar bears,” Sen. Cory Booker, who introduced the recent environmental justice bill, said. “I became an environmentalist because I was living in Newark. I was an activist and concerned about issues of poverty and disadvantage.”

For Native Americans, the need to address environmental justice and threats to tribal sovereignty, are long overdue.

“If this country continues to encroach and continues to threaten our land rights and human rights, something is going to give,” said Dave Archambault, former chairman of the Standing Rock tribe, who led his people in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. “I can’t tell you what the next fight is going to be, but I know that if this country continues to treat a population the way it has, not just recently but the past 200 years, something has to happen.”