Environmental Justice Leaders Demand Bold Climate Action in 2020

Washington, D.C. — Tonight, climate leaders and activists discussed the health and economic impacts of environmental injustice on Black, Brown, and Indigenous individuals and the need for bold climate action during a town hall co-hosted by Climate Power 2020 and NowThis.

The event featured New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland, National Co-Coordinator for the Environmental Justice Health Alliance Michele Roberts, Founder, CEO, and President of Black Millennials for Flint LaTricea Adams, Representative of Ironbound Community Corporation María López-Núñez, and Activist, Eco-Communicator and Founder of the Intersectional Environmentalist Program Leah Thomas. 

The event was moderated by Versha Sharma, senior correspondent and managing editor for NowThis.

During the event, the panelists discussed the intersectionality of climate justice and racial justice and how neither crisis can be fully addressed without the other.

“As 2020 has made all too clear, we’re fighting for the very future of our planet and our rights, which is why last week I proposed a bill that will clean up pollution that disproportionately impacts American communities of color and low-income families,” said Booker. “Our communities are hurting and grieving as this administration continues to fail us. With wildfires and hurricanes reaching record-breaking intensity and devastation and Trump pushing environmental policies that put low-income, minority families at the greatest risk of loss and pollution, Americans are coming together to say enough is enough. We need leadership on climate that prioritizes the safety of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people and we need it now.”

“Indigenous communities are familiar with the disastrous consequences of environmental injustice. Our people have struggled with a lack of adequate infrastructure, disproportionate rates of pollution, and policies that unjustly silence our voices,” said Haaland. “The fight against climate change is at a critical juncture and we need to lift up Indigenous voices and communities, take action to clean up pollution in our air and water sources, and ensure that our climate future is protected. The Environmental Justice Legacy Pollution Cleanup Act I proposed last week with Senator Booker will be a critical step in our fight against discriminatory pollution.”

“One of the most glaring signs of just how dangerous the climate crisis has become is the high rate of illness and death we’re seeing associated with climate disasters and pollution,” said Michele Roberts. “And we’re seeing a lot of research that illustrates how significantly worse that rate becomes for people of color who have historically been more exposed to pollution in their neighborhoods. We need to put an end to the existence of “cancer alleys” and the exacerbation to environmental genocide  and unite in the moral and political will to create environmental policies and programs that actively protect, enhance and prioritize the wellbeing of communities of color and the poor.”

“Flint is an example of just how grim the consequences of environmental injustice can be. Flint, a predominantly Black city, has faced the reality of toxic environmental pollution for 6 years with unsafe water that has caused long-term health consequences,” said Adams. “It is reprehensible that the Trump administration has silenced the voices of Black and Latinx communities and weakened the very crucial regulations meant to minimize toxic pollution. How many more communities have to suffer like Flint as a result of our country’s unjust policies?”

“We’re seeing evidence of the worsening climate crisis all around us in 2020. That’s especially true for Latino communities, who often bear the brunt of economic and physical harm from environmental injustices and climate disasters. It’s high time we take meaningful climate action to ensure that starting right now, Black and Brown families and other marginalized communities are protected from unjust environmental pollution and climate disasters. Our future depends on it,” said López-Núñez.

“My generation is fighting for our climate futures because we’re not just hearing about the climate crisis, we’re living it. Our country is burning, our coastal cities are flooding, and our president is ignoring all of it. Black, Brown, and Indigenous people are hurting most of all as a result of this administration’s environmental racism,” said Leah Thomas. “We can’t afford to let another year pass us by with no climate action and we must ensure that the action we take actively addresses the environmental injustices communities of color bear the brunt of.”

The impact of the climate crisis has been especially harsh for Black, Brown, and Indigenous individuals who face disproportionate exposure to pollution and toxic chemicals. Scientists have warned that soot pollution disproportionately affects communities of color and can cause cancer, heart disease, and asthma, which kills Black children at 10 times the rate as white children.

Studies have also shown that Black mothers and their babies are disproportionately impacted by pollution and climate change. One Journal of the American Medical Association-connected study found that Black mothers are nearly two-and-half times more likely to have children with a low birth weight than their white counterparts.