During the US Social Forum, I attended a workshop on “Race, Gender, and Climate Justice,” about the impact of environmental justice and what people have been doing to reverse the impact, and eradicate environmental racism.

Environmental justice is the idea that people of color are disproportionately affected by things like climate change and pollution, and it is the movement led by people of color to counteract those environmental damages.  For example, Detroit is the home of the largest incinerator in the world.  The fumes from the incinerator blow directly into one of the low income neighborhood, causing health problems and reducing the ability for the people to move out — property values have fallen so low that to move out of the area a person might sell their house for around 300 dollars.

When it comes to global climate change, this problem extends even further.  When massive weather storms like Hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami is 2004 it is generally the poorest communities and the communities of color that are affected the most.  The communities of color and low income areas around the Ninth Ward are still the communities struggling the most to regain what they had lost, and are now struggling with the impact of the oil spill in the Gulf.

Additionally, women of color in particular are targets for environmental racism.  As policy makers look at the population projections for the next few decades and see that our way of life cannot continue to be sustained by the planet, their solution is to target women of color for having too many babies.  For many policy-makers, that’s the only way out of the climate change situation we have gotten ourselves into.

This is the key issue around environmental justice — it is not just that these communities and populations are the most affected, but that the solutions to the environmental crises of the moment is to place blame on someone, in particular on already marginalized communities.  A lot of the presenters during the whole week talked about the Global South in the North population — meaning the marginalized communities of color who could exist in the Global South but for their location in a developed country.  This is tied to the idea of the poverty paradox, where people who live on natural resource rich land are some of the poorest people in the world because of the corporate greed and unequal distribution of profits.

There is a need in this movement for action, and for a united force of people working for climate justice.  In all of the discussions surrounding climate change, whether in policy or in general media, there are elements of climate justice.  Conversations about who it affects, why climate change matters, and how the world will work together to solve the problem are all tinged with symptoms of environmental racism.  We need to remember that climate change is not just an abstract problem, but something that is having real effects on populations right now.