This Black History month, Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) is proud to celebrate the essential work of Black leaders in the protection of the environment and public health.
“This Black History Month, as we grieve the loss of hundreds of thousands of Americans, disproportionately Black Americas, to the coronavirus, we also give thanks to the countless heroes who have led the fight against darkness and injustice in the past,” said Christian Brock, CEO Elected Officials to Protect America, Air Force Major (rt.). “Many are a part of Black Lives Matter movement and are rising once more. EOPA is at their side, calling for an ambitious climate action plan that seeks justice for all. To start we’ve initiated a sign on letter to the President and Congress which asks them for a comprehensive National Emergency Climate Plan to be enacted immediately.”
The National letter has over 170 signatures from elected officials in states across the country. For any elected official who wishes to join EOPA’s call to action please read and sign the letter HERE.
Black Americans have been whistleblowers, crusaders for public health and close partners of the land for generations. Yet for so long, the stereotypical image of an environmentalist has been a white, affluent tree-hugger, despite the fact that polls show that Black Americans are consistently more concerned about climate change than their white counterparts — perhaps because they have been forced to feel its devastating impacts more acutely.
“I’ve been serving for 12 years, really focusing on communities of color in North Carolina. For 10 of the 12 years I served, I was the only black woman serving as a Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor in the state of North Carolina,” said Danielle Adams, EOPA Leadership Council member. “And just like what we’ve seen with COVID, it is communities of color, it is people of color, who are mostly impacted by the devastating effects of global infectious disease, natural disasters, increased severity of storms, flooding, economic depression, and access to food and food insecurity.”
Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) is honored to highlight and learn from Black-led environmental initiatives, from the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program to West Harlem for Environmental Action, and hopes to place the contributions of Black environmentalists where they deserve to be: center stage.
Before environmental justice was a buzzword, it was the simple demand from members of a rural North Carolinian Black community who put themselves on the line to prevent toxins from being dumped in the midst of their homes. The events of 1982 in Warren County sparked a movement that continues to this day, and form just one part of the long legacy of Black leadership in defense of our planet.
The work of the father of environmental justice, Robert Bullard, produced quantitative proof of what Black Americans had known all along: that industry takes advantage of their marginalized status to exploit their communities and pollute their water and air. The Black church played a massive role in community organizing, with the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice commissioning a 1987 report proving that race was the most significant factor in the location of hazardous waste sites.
Black activists were fighting toxins in the air and water while the largely-white mainstream environmental movement was focused on rosy initiatives like conservation, public lands and protecting biodiversity — critical pursuits to be sure, but jarringly disconnected from the life-or-death realities faced by Black advocates and their communities.
These disparate realities still exist today, as communities of color in California, Louisiana and elsewhere fight for basic health and safety setbacks from fossil fuel infrastructure, while white advisory councils, although well intentioned, in areas across the nation debate bike lane creation and solar gardens.
“I grew up in Louisiana, in a big family. We lived modestly in a tight knit Black community sharing everyday moments that draw people together. This year because of climate change our community was ravaged by, not one but two hurricanes and people had to wait weeks for the electricity to be restored,” said Christian Brock, CEO Elected Officials to Protect America. “Far too many families in areas across a state riddled with oil refineries, pipelines and pollution are suffering from environmental injustice simply because they don’t have deep pockets, and the color of their skin is too dark. Our communities deserve justice. I was heartened to hear President Biden say he wants to put an end to the pollution in Louisiana’s infamous ‘cancer alley.’ EOPA stands with his climate change efforts to help ensure they happen.”
EOPA recognizes that campaigns which ignore broader social issues can inadvertently drown out the voices of fellow citizens still struggling for their human rights. The troubling nature of this fracture is exacerbated by the fact that conventional wisdom about solving natural resource dilemmas can lead to gentrification in communities already struggling, displacing Black and low-income residents. Black leadership in environmental spaces goes a long way towards remedying this lack of critical consideration.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) events of 2020 have served as a reckoning point, prompting recognition from many mainstream environmental groups that they have failed to engage with structural racism within their own organizations. The unintentional consequences have resulted in limiting access to a movement which needs all of us in order to succeed.
As Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a renowned marine biologist and expert on ocean climate systems said in her influential Washington Post editorial, you cannot muster a devoted core of scientists, thinkers and ordinary citizens to fight the climate crisis while too many people of color are fighting simply for their right to breathe.
“Black and Brown, indigenous communities are already suffering the dire impacts of the climate crisis,”said Danielle Adams, EOPA Leadership Council member. “We are dying at disproportionate rates because of infectious disease. We are dying because of hunger. We’re dying because of preventable issues that our government can take a hold of and be proactive in preventing through access to health care, access to food, clean water, to housing, to jobs, to economic security.”
As a result of outright discrimination in housing, zoning and economic opportunity, people of color and low-income are more likely to live near power plants, incinerators, ports, refineries, oil and gas facilities, factories and other hubs of toxic pollution. These frontline “fence” communities are at greater risk to respiratory illnesses, cancer, premature births and death.
A recent study from Harvard University, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester, and University College London, found that one in five premature deaths can be attributed to fossil fuel air pollution. According to this new research, over 350,000 people in the United States died in 2018 from fossil fuel air pollution prematurely – numbers three times higher than previously suggested by other studies.
The study backs up EOPA’s call to action for a National Climate Emergency Plan for a rapid and just transition to a clean energy economy that protects public health, creates jobs, and promotes equity.
It also confirms that President Biden’s recent executive actions on climate change are critically important, as he is putting environmental justice at the heart of America’s policy agenda. The creation of a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council will help clean up communities disproportionately affected by pollution, as all government agencies now must ensure that 40 percent of climate investment benefits are targeted to communities of color and low income communities.
The mission of EOPA: To create a safe, prosperous, and healthy planet, we empower leadership from elected officials and civic leaders to protect our environment, and fight the climate crisis. As current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting our planet and people from the dangers of climate change, EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, trains lawmakers, and connects elected officials to inspire strong environmental policy. Lawmakers who are veterans and elected officials lead our mission.
February 10, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ramona du Houx,
Elected Officials to Protect America