3 Ways Racial and Environmental Justice Are Connected, as Explained by the Vision for Black Lives

by David Barre

October 12, 2016

From fossil fuel divestment to clean air and water, the Vision for Black Lives is full of solutions for people and the planet.

Black Lives Black Lives Matter / #BlackLivesMatter

We’ve said it before and it bears repeating: racial and environmental justice are fundamentally linked. As our executive director Annie Leonard wrote recently:

“The systems of power and privilege that destroy the environment also strip vulnerable communities of their humanity — and too often, their lives.”

As an organization founded to promote peace, non-violence, and justice, we have a responsibility to take action against systemic violence and racism in this country. That includes the murder of Black folks at the hands by police as well as the policies that allow those transgressions to go unpunished.

But we cannot simply point to where the system is broken; we have to fight for an overhaul of those systems. That’s why today, Greenpeace has endorsed the Vision for Black Lives, a six-part agenda to advance Black dignity by building Black political will and power.

Greenpeace’s endorsement of this vision is an important step forward for us, and one I’m proud of. But it isn’t our first step. In fact, we’ve been working to integrate racial and social justice into the fabric of our campaigns, taking the lead from our allies, many of whom helped to create this vision. Together, we’re pushing forward an agenda that benefits both people and the planet.

Here’s what that looks like in practice.

1. Divesting From Fossil Fuels and Investing in Community Solutions

Climate change affects us all, but it does not affect us all evenly. As the Vision for Black Lives points out, Black people are among the most affected by our warming planet and the fossil fuel exploitation driving it.

However, those on the frontlines of climate destruction and fossil fuel extraction also have the ingenuity to develop just and locally-controlled energy solutions. Our leaders need to stop propping up the economies of the past — oil, coal, and gas companies that have a business model incompatible with the future — and start investing community-led solutions.

For too long, Black communities have been unable to access the “tools” of the clean energy revolution, whether because of the legacy of redlining or unfair lending practices. But the solution to climate change is not a wind turbine or a federal policy. It’s a more equitable and democratic society where all communities can participate in building a clean economy.

We’re working to catalyze this shift by pressuring leaders to keep fossil fuels in the ground and end the giveaways of our shared resources.

2. A Clean Energy Economy Is a Just Economy

An economy controlled by fossil fuel corporations is an economy that puts profit over people. But more democratic control over natural resources — like a stop to drilling on our public lands and waters — would lead to cleaner air and water for all.

Black communities are disproportionately at risk from exposure to all forms of pollution released from waste sites, chemical facilities, refineries, and power plants into their air, drinking water, and food. As a result, they face cumulative exposure to a cocktail of hazardous chemicals, as well as the risk of potential disasters that could kill or injure thousands instantly.

The Vision for Black Lives includes provisions to address this environmental racism that overlap with much of our toxics work, like an end to toxic waste dumping in communities and more avenues for community involvement in government decisions that affect access to clean housing, water, and food.

3. Putting People Before Corporations in Our Democracy

Democracy should be the best tool we have to create change in our society, but it has to work properly. Corporate influence in American politics and disenfranchisement of Black Americans is getting in the way of progress on everything from climate change to police reform.

A democracy that puts people first is one in which people’s voices speak louder than industry money and wealthy interests — which means ensuring the right to vote and getting big money out of the political system

The Vision for Black Lives highlights how Black voices are suppressed through existing policies around voter suppression and big money in politics. It also names policies needed to ensure that Black voices are not just heard, but represented in all parts of the political process, from voting to holding elected office.

Policies like automatic voter registration and small-donor, publicly funded elections help ensure that Black voices are heard in our democracy while benefiting all Americans by putting the future of our democracy into the hands of people rather than wealthy corporations and the super-rich.

Many of the same policies articulated in the Vision for Black Lives are shared across movements and are included in work that Greenpeace is actively supporting. In 2012, Greenpeace was a founding member of the Democracy Initiative, which has grown to include 55 issue-based membership organizations that are mobilizing millions to put people first in our democracy by ensuring the right to vote and get big money out of politics.  

Much work remains to be done to create a democracy that lives up to its promise, but with the policies laid out in the Vision for Black Lives, we’ll get a lot closer.

For a Green, Peaceful, and Just Future

These are just some of the ways that our fights for the environment and for racial justice are interwoven, but the Vision for Black Lives calls for much more — and we support all of it.

To radically transform the systems of power that threaten our environment and oppress people of color, it’s going to take a movement. Greenpeace supporters like you are already contributing to that movement in so many valuable ways, but we can do more to stand in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives by supporting this vision.

Start by reading and endorsing the full Vision for Black Lives if you haven’t already. Let’s create a more green, peaceful, and just future together.

David Barre

By David Barre

David Barre is the Chief Program Officer at Greenpeace USA and oversees all of the organization’s public facing campaign work. He previously served as Communications Director both from 1998 to 2004 and again from 2009 to 2016.

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