View from the Pew – Environmental Racism & Justice

Learning More about Environmental Ministry 
by Sue Bradford Edwards
Member of Florissant Presbyterian Church

When I volunteered to be a part of the FPC Green Committee, I hoped to learn about becoming an environmentally aware church. What I hadn’t counted on was being called on to learn about environmental racism.

On November 14, 2017, I participated in a videoconference put on by the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Presbyterian Committee for the Self-Development of People. The title itself was more than a little intimidating – Impact of Environmental Injustice on Low-Income and Communities of Color.

This was a videoconference about how environmental problems have a greater impact on marginalized people.  People who are living near the edge in terms of food and shelter suffer the most when the environment is damaged.  The areas that they live in are more likely to be polluted. They often live in low lying areas that are subject to greater flooding. These problems damage their health and impact how long they live.  The problem is compounded by the fact that they often have less power to improve things than people who live in less polluted areas.

This problem was illustrated by a summer 2017 event. The World Council of Churches participates in the annual UN Climate Change Conference.  The island nation of Fiji was the host for the 2017 event, COP23. Unfortunately, they couldn’t actually hold the event in Fiji because of the vast amounts of ocean plastic surrounding their nation. Although Fiji is being forced to deal with the plastic, it is from countries all over the world.

Another example of environmental racism is much closer to home – the situation in Flint, Michigan.  In the videoconference, we previewed a movie about Flint.  We learned that their local GM plant had quit using the water because it was corroding their pipes. Although the auto industry was responsible for the pollution, it made no attempt to stop polluting or clean the water. They also didn’t warn people not to drink it. In addition to the brain damage seen in the children, the lead levels are also contributing to higher levels of heart disease, kidney disease, and lupus.  “This is not supposed to be happening to us in America,” said one resident on the video.

In addition to pollution, environmental racism means not disrespecting communities that consider the land itself sacred. This can be seen in the situation with Bears Ears National Monuments.  Our nation’s newest monument, 1.3 million acres in Utah, was created with cooperation between the Ute, Hop, Pueblo, Zuni, and Navajo tribes.  Following the Civil War, the Navajo came to the area to hide as the army burned their crops.  The people were rounded up and driven to Fort Sumter in the Long Walk. The bones of those who died can be seen along the trails today.

This story should be part of our national memory.  But the current administration is considering reducing the monument to 160 thousand acres in spite of the fact that the tribes consider the whole area sacred and it contains the remains of their ancestors.

As the organizers reminded us Presbyterians are called on to care for God’s creation.  We are also called on to aid “the least,” the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden.  Environmental ministries speak to both of these callings.

What can you do?  When we hear stories like these, we wonder what we can do. 

  • First, consider your purchases. What you buy impacts the area in which it was built.
  • Second, consider the packaging used to transport what you buy.  Minimize plastics like those surrounding Fiji. 
  • Third, consider how you dispose of recyclable materials.
  • Fourth, listen to those whose lives are different from our own.  Speak for them and for our planet.

Helpful Actions & Videos listed by the speakers include:

A petition to save national monuments: http://action.creationjustice.org/p/dia/action4/common/public/?action_KEY=23373

And a community prayer about defending lands that are culturally and spiritually important to Native Americans: http://www.creationjustice.org/blog/pray-for-public-lands-during-native-american-heritage-month

 

Watch the Webinar Mentioned above
Presbyterian Mission Agency Environment Racism Issues

 

 

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