Environmental Justice Matters

By Judith A. Ross
Moms Clean Air Force


Proof that climate change is everybody’s business was in plain sight at the recent New England Environmental Justice Summit. On a hot, airless, Saturday morning, teens, young adults, baby boomers, and an octogenarian or two gathered in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Summit attracted close to 100 concerned citizens from four New England states, all involved in work related to climate change.

According to the panel leading the opening session, environmental justice is a combination of human and civil rights relating to our environment, and it looks different in every community.

Suburbs don’t need subsistence fishing, for example, like a native community does,” Dr. Elizabeth Hoover, assistant professor of American Studies at Brown University explained. In other communities, she noted, environmental justice would ensure that children from low income and minority communities don’t attend schools located on toxic sites.

It has a lot to do with how natural resources are used and abused: who benefits, and who pays in terms of pollution and other costs,” added the Reverend Robert Murphy.

It means we plan and think about our world in a different way. We value people and our natural resources differently and eliminate false choices over jobs,” said Kalila Barnett of the Alternatives for Community & Environment.

A session entitled, Creating Resilient Communities in the Face of Climate Change, delved into the nuts and bolts of how communities can prepare for the heat waves, power failures, flooding, and wildfires currently resulting from climate change.

Elderly, disabled, and low-income residents are not only the most vulnerable to these extreme weather events, they also lack resources, such as a family car, to evacuate danger zones. Helping people connect with their neighbors and mapping those who are in immediate peril during a weather emergency is one way that community groups can help.

Participants in the session also discussed fostering environmental stewardship in local communities through education. For example, Genea Foster, a fellow at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center, is developing the Beach Sister Program in partnership with Girls, Inc. in the coastal city of Lynn, Massachusetts.

We’re building a relationship between youth and the local marine environment. Fifty-eight percent of Lynn residents are people of color, and 19 percent live below the poverty level. Climate change puts their community directly at risk,” Foster said.

Through a series of activities, Foster is helping her students understand how an ocean warmed by climate change will diminish the nearby shoreline, and why those warmer waters are causing smaller catches for local fisherman and hurting Lynn’s economy.

The group also spends time debunking common myths and illuminating the truth about climate change — dispelling doubts that it results from human activity, for example. “We talk about why they believe what they do, and the facts behind climate change,” Foster explained.

The wisest question of the day— which cut right to the heart of why, in spite of decades of research and warnings, climate change is still happening —was posed by Abe, a 15-year-old high school sophomore from Providence, Rhode Island.

How can people like us win against the polluters in this country, who have both money and power on their side?

You get loud, he was told, you keep the pressure on, you don’t give up — and you don’t stop until you’ve made halting climate change everybody’s business.


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