EVENT: Women Michigan Leaders Demand Bold Climate Action

Video of this event can be found here.

Washington, D.C. — Last night, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment and on the heels of Senator Kamala Harris’ historic debate performance, Michigan women leaders discussed what’s at stake in the 2020 presidential election for our climate, air, and water, as part of an event that NowThis News and Climate Power 2020 co-hosted.

The event featured Michigan State Senator Stephanie Chang, Michigan Political Director of America Votes Lauren Bealore, Southwest Detroit Community Activist Theresa Landrum, Activist, and Social Impact Consultant Jamira Burley. Versha Sharma, Senior Correspondent, and Managing Editor for NowThis, moderated the event.

During the town hall event, the panelists discussed Senator Harris’ historic vice presidential debate and the intersectionality of climate action, gender bias, and racial justice and how none of these issues can be fully addressed without the other.

Harris made the environment a key focus at the debate, and the panelists commended her strong record fighting for environmental justice and holding polluters accountable.

Central to the discussion were the challenges that women often bear under environmental injustice and how their lived experiences give them the insight to work toward environmental justice. 

  • Bealore noted that women are uniquely positioned to fight complex problems like the climate crisis saying: “living multifaceted identities enables them [women] to tie issues together and solve multifaceted issues.” 

For this reason, several participants noted the importance of having women, especially women of color, in positions of power. 

  • For instance, Sen. Chang highlighted how the Great Lakes state, which is surrounded by fresh water, has not yet implemented measures to ensure all Michiganders have access to clean drinking water. She continued to note how community involvement strengthens policymaking and acknowledged the role that her constituents and community members have played suggesting and shaping policies.
  • Bealore expanded on inclusivity in policymaking, especially in laws and regulations that affect Black and Brown people, saying, “The environmental realm of politics and policy at its core, was never meant to be inclusive… Representation matters. And we have to start by debunking the myth of the environmental organizer. […] I think we need to start by having different representation and candidates up and down the ballot to even address these issues, and not just for the sake of an endorsement for their campaign but truly working with Black, [Asian American and Pacific Islander], Latinx, Women, LGBT candidates to engage them and educate them on these issues.”

Panelists also called for solutions that include more participation from members of affected communities in government, the business industry, and academia. 

  • Landrum, who has helped shape environmental policy through her work with Senator Chang and various working groups, pointed out that the Flint crisis happened because “no one would listen to the moms ringing the alarm.” Landrum also noted that when she joined the working group on the Flint water crisis it was the first time a community member had been involved in this way. This type of community involvement is the key to changing the regulatory culture.
  • Landrum also stressed that there is a “need for like-minded people in office who have the human side to understand that their policies harm environmental justice communities, water, and land.”

The panelists also discussed climate disasters that still plague Black and Brown communities and how these communities are disproportionately impacted. 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. 

  • Burley commented on how the current pandemic has brought these health impacts to light: “Oftentimes I think communities and politicians look at climate change as these silent killers, but [what] COVID and many other vulnerabilities have shown [is] that these issues are very much [in] broad daylight and are impacting people every single day… We are lacking the political will, not the knowledge or the resources to do [something about] it.”  

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.

Despite these injustices, the panelists discussed the economic and environmental impacts of bold climate action. Bealore noted that Biden’s plan to transition the U.S. to a clean energy economy would create good-paying jobs in Michigan’s transit and auto industries, building upon Biden’s experience with the auto industry bailout.

All of the panelists remarked that they were hopeful because of women, young people, and community members’ continued commitment to working towards a better future.