By Jared Braud
Climate change is one of the biggest problems facing the planet today. The State of Louisiana is at ground zero when it comes to climate change. Louisiana has had nearly 2,000 square miles disappear along the coast in recent years. Racism also plays a role in the changes to communities, because residents who live in vulnerable places are often people of color. The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice has been working to solve this issue since it started in 1992, particularly looking at the ways in which climate change affects communities of color in the South.
“We recognize that we not only rebuild our homes, but we must bring people along to be able to touch those who have been impacted,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell on post-Katrina rebuilding, as she addressed this matter at the 6th Annual HBCU Climate Change Conference, held jointly by Dillard and Xavier from Sept. 20th-23rd.
Cantrell made her remarks on Sept. 20th at Xavier revisiting how many citizens of New Orleans still remain affected by Hurricane Katrina. Recently, Ninth Ward residents sued Actor Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation for selling them poorly constructed sustainable homes that have begun to decay and become overrun with mold. In many cases, businesses often buy residents out of their homes, gentrifying neighborhoods. And other industrial companies have been the source of excess waste dumpling excess from chemical plants next to low-income communities of color. The community will need to band together to let corporate interests know that this problem will no longer be ignored, Cantrell said. Her administration will work with community advocates to ensure these practices end, she said.
African-Americans are 30 percent more likely to be exposed to air within their communities and 75 percent of African-Americans live near industrials plants, above the US average, said Robert Bullard, the Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center, and a Professor at Texas Southern University, who co-facilitated the HBCU Climate Change Conference.
“We must use this opportunity to make a difference and use our education as liberation,” Bullard said.
Xavier’s President C. Reynold Verret described Bullard as being one of the first people to coin the phrase “environmental injustice.” Bullard’s 1990 book, “Dumping Dixie,” explains how citizens, mainly citizens of color, suffer from poor health from waste dumped near their communities. People most impacted must be in the room when decisions are being made, Bullard said. Residents living in low-lying communities have a higher chance of being diagnosed with certain illnesses that affect the heart and lungs, Bullard’s work notes.
NNPA President, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., received the Damu Smith Award, named after this peace activist, at the conference and told stakeholders that injustice is not something to be taken lightly. Smith was the Founder of Black Voices for Peace and the National Black Environmental Justice Network. Chavis explained that injustice was created out of greed and that others should not make a profit at the expense of human life.
“If Dr. King were here today, he would ask what qualifies as environmental injustice,” Chavis said. “As one of his famous quotes goes, ‘A threat to justice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere,’ Chavis said. Environmental Justice is now a part of social justice in keeping with Dr. King’s vision, Chavis explained, because humanity now requires the well-being of all communities and that is part of the social struggle.
The HBCU Climate Change Conference carries as its motto: “Fighting For Our Lives.” The city pledged to do its part under a new administration, Cantrell said, by placing pallets within the neutral ground around the City of New Orleans. These pallets restructured for plant materials that will receive water and retain it to reduce flooding.
Experts say it will take more than just activists and officials to address Environmental Justice. It’s not just the work of environmentalists, but all citizens must get involved in this fight. “Fighting for our lives is not a front,” Bullard said.