Like climate change, there is no quick fix for systemic racism. We need to embed actions that contribute to environmental justice into our everyday lives and continue the fight when the cameras are off.
I’ll be 100% honest — I’ve been hesitant in addressing the Black Lives Matter movement and environmental justice. Not because I don’t believe in or support either cause — quite the contrary. I’m late because I’ve been watching, reading and listening to people fight for their lives, and trying to find Emeraldology’s place in the fight.
I’m like the whitest dude on the planet (just look at my bio). I’ve lived in suburbs my whole life and I’ve talked my way out of more traffic tickets than I’ve been written, never once fearing for my life. Even after weeks of pouring over newsletters, articles and essays about the intersection of climate and racial injustice, I’m no more fit to speak about it than I am to teach law.
But that’s no excuse to sit on the sidelines. I may not be able to teach environmental justice, but I can show you how to get to class, share my notes, and lend you a pencil (seriously, contact me if you’d like to share your voice on Emeraldology).
What I’m reading
For starters, the climate newsletters, Emily Atkin’s HEATED and Bill McKibben’s Welcome to the Climate Crisis, have been hyper-focused on the intersection of racial and climate justice. Yes, Atkins and McKibben are both white, but they are using their sizable platforms to amplify black voices, like Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s. Her piece “I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet” is a must read!
Also, follow her on Twitter @ayanaeliza. She can teach you about environmental justice.
Here’s another wonderful article by Leah Thomas called “Why Every Environmentalist Should Be Anti-Racist” that explains intersectional environmentalism (the ugly offspring of climate change and systemic racism) better than I’ll ever be able to.
What I’m watching
Not TV news, that’s for damn sure. I watched one night of wall-to-wall local protest coverage while also checking Twitter, and the two perspectives couldn’t be more different. I’m not saying either one is completely accurate by any means, but I will projectile vomit if I hear another white reporter say “Everything seems to be peaceful at the moment, but there is definitely a tension in the air and it seems like things could get violent any second.”
Instead, I allow myself to go down the Twitter rabbit hole for a few hours each night, knowing full well that I’m quite literally drifting through Wonderland. While Twitter is useful in showing what TV news doesn’t, it tends to exaggerate people’s existing beliefs (hence the Wonderland metaphor) and I’ve learned to take everything I read and watch with a big grain of salt.
But without Twitter, I would never have found the wonderful video below, and others like it. As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” Emmanuel Acho is definitely a helper.
Also, I will drop everything I’m doing to listen to Professor Cornel West — even if he’s on cable news:
Video from CNN.
What I’m learning
The bottom line is that police brutality is just one symptom of systemic racism. Black people are also disproportionately victim to COVID-19, climate change, incarceration, poverty, air pollution, and more. And I know that white privilege exists because — as a lifelong white person — I’m able to turn off and ignore these things, if I so choose.
The other thing that has become abundantly clear, and this is where Emeraldology comes into play, is that people of color are paying the price for unsustainable actions that benefit the ultra-rich and ultra-white. There’s no doubt white people used their 300+ year head start in America to build a system that put themselves on top. And that system is still running full steam ahead.
You know those Amazon purchases that seem too good to be true? They are. You simply can’t buy things at 70% of normal cost and have them delivered in two days without someone paying the price. In Amazon’s case, people in communities of color working and the living near pollution-spewing fulfillment centers pick up the hidden cost, while white people — namely Jeff Bezos — profit from it.
Remember that next time you tell Alexa to add air fresheners to your shopping list.
Or how about the air conditioner that pops on anytime the house gets above 73 degrees? Unfortunately, these things don’t run on sunshine and rainbows — not yet at least. During summer months, demand for electricity surges due largely to air conditioning, and is met by “peaker power plants.” These plants are old, incredibly dirty and — you may have guessed it — primarily located in communities of color, causing high rates of asthma and breathing conditions. Meanwhile, the almost uniformly white fossil fuel executives rake in profits.
Air conditioning is by all accounts the perfect representation of environmental injustice: An A/C pops on in the primarily white suburbs, and a coal fired power plant spews even more CO2 and pollutants in a community of color. White people profit, black people pay in blood.
Keep that in mind when you set the thermostat this summer.
My goal at Emeraldology has always been to show that environmentalism isn’t reserved for a select group of eco-warriors. Everybody — but especially those with power — should build actions into their daily lives that contribute to a healthier planet, in addition to taking big actions like donating, protesting, voting and volunteering.
It’s not just about lowering your carbon footprint — it’s about crafting a life that fights climate change on a daily basis and demanding sustainable products and policies with your everyday actions.
Everything I’ve read, watched and listened to in the last few weeks suggests we need the same approach to combat systemic racism. Fighting system racism isn’t reserved for protesters, politicians, or any single group of people — it’s something we can all combat with our everyday actions.
It’s time to connect the dots between consumer and lifestyle actions and their impacts on communities of color. It’s time to make choices that actively support those communities instead of kicking dirt on them.
Emeraldology has fallen well short of this goal in the past by focusing almost entirely on climate issues. Many of the lifestyle and consumer actions featured on this site contribute to environmental justice but I have failed explicitly point that out.
I promise to mold Emeraldology in into a resource that explicitly considers and advocates for environmental justice as the intersection between climate change and systemic racism.
To begin, I want to spotlight The Intentionalist, a wonderful resource for finding small businesses owned by minority groups in select cities.
This is only the beginning, and there is much more to come.
Feature photo by Julian Wan on Unsplash.