The intersectionality of race and environment, and how we can create systemic change
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Race matters when we talk about the environment and climate change. Historical and systemic injustices have allowed communities of color to disproportionately bear the burdens of our environmental crisis—known as environmental racism.
Here's what we'll cover step-by-step:
Understanding how we got to where we are today is important when advocating for environmental justice and creating systemic change.
🎯 Action step 1 of 4: READ — Let's start by looking at a few articles together.
Environmental racism is the (highly substantiated) idea that environmental risks are allocated disproportionately along the lines of race, often without the input of the affected communities of color.
Here are some articles that helped us dive deeper into this issue:
You'll learn that:
People of color continue to be at risk of the environmental hazards and health burdens. When raising awareness of environmental issues and the overall climate crisis, we must acknowledge the intersection between race and environment.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 1 of 4: READ.
🎯 Action step 2 of 4: LISTEN — we'll watch a short video or listen to a podcast to further expand on our topic.
Environmental racism continues to perpetuate the disproportionate impacts of many environmental crisis we're facing today—from water access, to toxic waste dumping, to pollution...
How do we bridge these gaps and start thinking about environmental justice? For the two videos below, we're giving you a choice based on what you need: 1) lighthearted commentary about a specific issue or 2) a broad visualization of environmental justice.
What you do have to know is so many major crises, like this pipeline protest, Flint water poisoning, and even something as natural as Hurricane Katrina have deep roots in environmental justice.
Trevor Noah gives his funny take on it, and if that's what you need right now, watch the video!
* Woke laughter *
When you're feeling up to it, you can watch Trouble the Water for free. It's a documentary of failures of the government to respond properly to the Hurricane Katrina — failures influenced by environmental racism.
We love this video by Grist. It's only 3 minutes long, the visualizations are great, and it distills a complicated concept into understandable terms. Here's the description, straight from Grist:
The harm that comes with rising seas and contaminated water systems isn’t evenly distributed. To the contrary: Those who are already disadvantaged by race, wealth, and income are usually the most affected by environmental disasters. Without recognizing that inequality, we’re not always solving the problems with our water, air, and soil in ways that serve the people who need it most — which is why environmental justice is a critical part of planning a green future that’s good for everyone.
Watch it here!
You'll see in the video there's a reference to race-based zoning and housing. In the US, this is commonly known as redlining. According to writer Michael Harriot, "almost every calculable form of economic inequality that still exists can be tied to redlining." You've got to check out his Twitter thread on redlining. It changed the way we see American society.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 2 of 4: LISTEN.
🎯 Action step 3 of 4: ACT — Now it's time to do something. Let's go!
The following actions focus almost exclusively on questions our Soapbox community members sent in about how to create environmental justice within our communities, and create systemic change.
Here's the thing about humans:
The good news—everything we said above can be solved in baby steps. Here's what you can do:
1) Move money to a different bank
Sophia Wagner, one of Soapbox's community members, is the founder of Mighty Deposits, a bank comparison site to help you find banks that are good for people & the planet according to public data, not ads. She reached out to us saying, "Many of the biggest contributors to fossil fuels and exploitation are the most popular banks in the country. Opening savings/checking accounts with sustainable banks or Black-owned banks can be a really effective way to take action and contribute to systemic change."
We've spent more time on the Mighty Deposits website than we'd like to admit. Here are some amazing things about it:
We're obsessed with how easy Sophia's making it to shift power from corporations to communities. If you're not ready to switch banks today, just start with something as simple as opening an account!
2) Understand and VOTE on local policy
One of our readers asked "how to participate in environmental reform in your city." It really comes down to understanding what the heck is going on in your city in the first place. Our founder, Nivi, used to live in San Francisco, and she began understanding how important local politics were when she dialed into weekly Chamber of Commerce meetings. Nivi got to weigh in on things like marijuana legislation and safe injection sites.
Here's a general approach:
If you're looking for a tool that shows you what bills might be coming up for a vote, check out ProPublica's database of environmental protection bills and this search tool by GovTrack. Bookmark them so you can come back to them during eleciton season.
3) Donate! (Make it recurring!)
Finally, a few of you asked about where to donate. We're plugging The Human Utility. Your donation will literally be helping people get access to water in cities like Detroit and Baltimore. It's a real shame that people in the US are going without WATER, but you can chip in as little as $5 a month to help them with their water bill. This is what direct impact looks like.
Creating systemic change can seem like a daunting task, but know that taking those baby steps can have ripple effects.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 3 of 4: ACT.
Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable. Pledge here!
🎯 Action step 4 of 4: REFLECT — what can you commit to? What fresh perspectives can we look at?
When corporations pollute, they often dump their waste in impoverished communities. To this day, big oil companies pollute poor communities in Louisiana. They even created a place called Cancer Alley.
Of course, these communities are not only impoverished—they're racially segregated. Previously we discussed how redlining and housing discrimination play a huge part in environmental and systemic racism. Knowing what you know now, we want you to reflect on this article NBC put out: "In 'Cancer Alley,' a renewed focus on systemic racism is too late."
Here's the lowdown:
When combatting climate change, we can make the most change by tackling the most affected areas. In the US, that's often communities of color.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 4 of 4: REFLECT.
Check out our membership community for more resources like free weekly events with social justice experts, sustainable product discounts, pre-written email templates, a social impact job board, and in-person hangouts with new friends. Thanks for taking action with Soapbox Project!
Get our free bite-sized climate action plans before you go!