Black Women Stand Up for Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Its Impact on Health & Wellness in Black Communities

Managing Director, HBCU Green Fund

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” – Ephesians 6:12

A healthy community is caring, peaceful, thriving and regenerative.  Children are at the center, they are educated, cultivated and cherished; elders are respected, honored, and their well-being is a high priority for members of the community.  All are housed, well fed and the people work in harmony with nature. A healthy community requires a healthy environment with clean air, soil and water.

The dominant culture is powerful, predatory, and violent.  It celebrates the exploitation of both nature and people as progress.  The struggle for environmental and climate justice is a collective effort to raise consciousness and restore balance.  Black and Indigenous peoples experience imbalance as injustice.

Dark forces of this world are driven by greed, vanity, and a false sense of entitlement that elevates individual desire far above collective need.  In this world view the pursuit of self-interest at the expense of others is legitimized.  Rather than address activities that are causing climate upheaval, these forces deny and delay and are determined to dominate the future.  This course is catastrophic for life as we know it.

The Black community is under attack.  Our communities have been poisoned, our children have asthma and cannot breathe, our men are suffocated on the street crying out that they cannot breathe. Should they survive this terror Black men are more likely to be incarcerated and for longer periods of time.  Our youth march declaring to the world that Black lives matter.  Relentless disruption of our culture, neighborhoods and families has unleashed violence among our youth and too many have lost all value for life itself.  Black women are overrepresented in virtually every negative category imaginable: infant mortality, maternal mortality, sex trafficking, incarceration, income gap, and wealth gap.  Systems that create and sustain these gaps are unnatural and immoral.

While children go hungry enough food is wasted to feed 3 billion people.  It is not hungry children but the fact that food waste is the third highest emitter of greenhouse gas contributing to climate change that elevates the issue for classical environmentalists. Plastics don’t decompose for 400 years and it is everywhere, especially in the ocean killing fish with comparatively little concern for the millions of languishing small fishermen. Warmer seas are bleaching coral reefs, dissolving oysters potentially collapsing marine ecosystems. And there’s land where toxins are still dumped and forests, considered the lungs of the planet, are plowed under to feed Western demand for sugar and palm oil.  Textile waste piles up on distant shores and our personal data is used to program us to shop until we drop. Air and water pollution are global challenges with millions of people existing in a state of food and water insecurity.  This deadly state of insanity is driven by the desire for profit.  

Until recently the environmental movement was defined by negative impacts in the natural environment with more focus on trees and polar bears than people.  Purveyors of science and technology defined environmental problems as technical, suggesting scientific solutions and discounting or dismissing all other knowledge and wisdom.  In their view, justice and equity were at best secondary considerations.  Though it is attributed to him, you don’t have to be Einstein to know that you cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created it.  You also can’t solve a problem without properly identifying it and flawed analysis leads to false solutions.  Climate change is a fundamentally moral problem.

Justice advocates placed people on the landscape and exposed systemic racism prevalent in the placement of toxic waste and industrial facilities.  Respecting local and indigenous knowledge, environmental justice advocates struggle to elevate the wisdom and experiences of communities impacted by environmental degradation.  

Black women environmental justice leaders like Jacque Patterson, Mildred McClain, and many others, work to advance a “just transition” from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. These women are cultivating the next generation of leaders while constructing integrated, multifaceted frameworks for crafting real solutions anchored in justice. Black women environmental leaders share a global world view and an African sense of community or ubuntu. Considered as one branch of a broader human rights movement, environmental justice is better thought of as the trunk of the justice tree.

Virtually all Black women leaders identify and support the environmental and climate justice movement.  These women possess extensive and dynamic range of expertise and unparalleled faith that activates unseen power.  It is time for faith leaders, natural healers, artists, activists and students to come together to determine exactly how we will deploy our forces to “capitalize” upon the enormous transfer of wealth underway in the United States. Every issue on the Black women’s agenda has a distinct and important place within the environmental justice framework making it possible to develop and execute a well-designed plan that is both bottom up and top down.  

Black women must become the leading architects of a new vision as the nation prepares to deploy trillions through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation and Inflation Reduction Act.  President Biden’s commitment to environmental justice, Justice 40 targeting disadvantaged communities, racial justice, and equity, provides a rare opportunity for Black women to secure resources required for Black community restoration.  Missing this opportunity would be tragic not only for Black America, but for the entire world.