Why Environmentalists Should Support Black Lives Matter

What does Black Lives Matter have to do with climate change?

Black people are subject to all sorts of disparities, and climate change happens to be among the most threatening. 

The movement's slogan is not meant to claim that black lives matter more than others – instead, it serves to expose the foundational role that anti-black discrimination has played in constructing a system of racial superiority for all aspects of society including the environment. 

Anti-black discrimination in the form of environmental racism has made it possible for people to look away from climate threats that are systematically dumped on the neighborhoods of blacks by our government, allowing for the worst health impacts to permeate those communities.

The killing of Eric Garner – an unarmed man suspected of selling single cigarettes – reveals how racism against black citizens can be environmental. His death was found to be a result of the choke hold that an officer used on him, and not surprisingly, asthma was cited as a contributing factor. Air pollution exacerbates asthma and falls more heavily on predominantly black communities like Garner’s in Staten Island, NY.

“I can’t breathe,” were Garner’s very last words. 

Asthma from air pollution is just one of several ways environmental racism plays out. Lead exposure and poisoning and the proliferation of landfills are other environmental risks and hazards that disproportionately impact blacks. Environmental racism will continue to exacerbate things like asthma in communities of color because of the veiled notions of racial superiority that have stimulated a societal non-response to climate change.

It is critical that these notions be brought to light. And that’s where the Black Lives Matter movement comes in. 

The non-indictment of the officer that killed Garner drove thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters into the streets last year. Two years before, a similar rallying gave birth to the movement after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering black teenager Trayvon Martin with a gun.

Such efforts have launched dialogues on environmental racism into the mainstream, shifting the conversation around race to a bigger context of climate. At the same time, Black Lives Matter has set the precedent for green groups to try to understand what opportunities people of color have in the environmental movement, altering its traditionally white pervasiveness.

However, if green groups refuse to speak about the intersectionality between race and climate change, and the basis that black lives matter, environmental racism will continue to influence how the government responds to this existing climate crisis.

It is very clear that the lives of black communities do not matter to Trump and his administration. Trump’s budget recommended that the Environmental Protection Agency close its environmental justice office and transfer all work for at-risk communities to its general Office of Policy.

In what is such a crucial time for environmental policy, several green groups have released statements of solidarity with Black Lives Matter. We published a blog post stating our support for the movement in 2014. These statements are a sign of progress for the environmental movement but are not enough.

Geen groups need to continue to engage with relevant social causes if we want to grow and evolve.

We are opening up and recognizing that we cannot achieve our mission  to defend a healthy environment if it does not include upholding everyone’s rights. The fact that the fight to protect the environment goes hand in hand with civil rights advocacy can no longer be denied. The Black Lives Matter movement is exactly a reminder of this.

All people, regardless of race, deserve the right to clean air and water, and to live in a safe environment without being subjected to discrimination and fear of the police. There’s never been a more important time than now to stand up against injustices in your community – support movements like Black Lives Matter by joining Greenpeace’s Summer of Resistance!

Through Summer of Resistance, you will gain the tools you need to host your own creative action. Together, we will fight for each other and reject all the ways in which this administration puts our communities and climate in jeopardy.

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