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Read All About It: The Connections Between Environmental Injustice and Racism

Updated: Aug 6



Here are five sources you can use to educate yourself.


Article: I am a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet.

By Ayana Elizabeth Johnson


Why read this?

This article is the perfect snapshot of the connection between the climate crisis and racism. To explain the role of racism in the environmental movement, Johnson quotes Toni Morrison: “The very serious function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” It’s true. How can people of color, who are needed in the climate movement, be expected to commit time to it when they are faced with the pointed threats of racism every day? Moreover, Johnson examines how people of color are much more likely to be concerned about the climate crisis, and that’s due to the fact that they’re more affected by it.


Punch line:

“So, to white people who care about maintaining a habitable planet, I need you to become actively anti-racist. I need you to understand that our racial inequality crisis is intertwined with our climate crisis. If we don’t work on both, we will succeed at neither.”



Article: Why Every Environmentalist Should Be Anti-Racist

By Leah Thomas


Why read this?

This article discusses the concept of intersectional environmentalism which is “an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet”. Thomas shows how essential this concept is to fighting for climate justice, noting, like Ayana Elizabeth Johnson in her article, that racism works as a drain on Black activists, (among the many horrible ways it works), and prevents them from having time and energy to invest in finding solutions for the climate. Thomas also delves into the way that health and environmental crises “fall along racial lines” in the United States, and how anti-racism is one of the biggest tools that can be used to make the planet a better place for all its inhabitants. Finally, Thomas gives recommendations for further reading on this topic.


Punch line:

“I’ve stood beside white environmentalists during climate protests, but I’ve felt abandoned by my community during acts of unjustifiable violence toward Black and Brown people.”



Essay: Climate Activists: Here’s Why Your Work Depends on Ending Police Violence

By Dany Sigwalt


Why read this?

In this essay, Sigwalt argues that, in the United States, power structures that “haven’t functionally changed since slavery” need to be upended in order to get any kind of justice, climate included. The essay also dives into the issue of lack of diversity in climate movements themselves, and how important it is that people of color are put in key leadership positions. But, racism is an inherent threat to this idea. As Sigwalt writes, “Right now, Black folks, Indigenous folks, and other folks of color are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, but if we are shot on our way to joining the climate movement, what’s the point?”


Punch line:

“To win on climate, we have to challenge and upend the power structures that have allowed the behemoth of state violence and racial injustice.”



Video: Environmental Racism Is the New Jim Crow

By Vann R. Newkirk II


Why watch this?

In this video, Newkirk paints the brutal picture of environmental racism. He gives examples that show why this concept is not only relevant today, but has also been relevant for a long time in American history. This short clip is concise but clear and informative, and the issue it discusses is an important one to know about.


Punch line:

“The most basic pieces of the environment—the air and water we breathe—are controlled and designed by people. And people can be racist.”



Article: Combating climate change, COVID-19, and systemic injustice on the same front

By Claire Elise Thompson


Why read this?

This article gives the responses of five environmental leaders to the question of “addressing the compounded threats of racial injustice, climate change, and COVID-19”. Each response addresses a different side of these issues, from climate policy that focuses on vulnerable communities, to housing inequity, to the impact of the pandemic on Native American communities, and overall, to the creation of a better world in the wake of the pandemic instead of trying to go back in time to what was “normal” before it all happened.


Punch line:

“Even as some folks mumble about getting “back to normal,” others are talking about ways to make sure “normal” is never the same again.”


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