On Thursday, October 29, we had the privilege of attending the Clean Power Plan #climatecitizen discussion at The New School. The panel members were esteemed scholars in many areas relating to climate change, including environmental justice, energy research, public policy and policy analysis.

I found the most interesting issue raised by these speakers was the idea of justice in relationship to the environment, and furthermore, to climate change and its consequences. I feel that when we discuss climate change, we frequently speak of the issue in general terms – i.e. it effects us all, we are all part of this planet, we all must contribute to climate change mitigation. These ideas are all valid, however, they do not address the aspects of inequity in the distribution of climate change’s detrimental effects.

Dr. Cecilia Martinez began her presentation with a satellite image of the world at night, depicting light/electricity usage—thus illustrating which areas of the world use the most electricity. Areas on the image were almost completely dark, while others were extremely dense in light. The dark regions primarily existed in the global south—areas where access to electricity is significantly reduced. Dr. Martinez brought up the idea of a just global world. An immediate reaction of most people is one of a desire for equity, to bring electricity and light to these regions that are lacking it. However, what would it mean for these countries to be entitled to the same amount of electricity usage as the United States and western Europe? It would catapult emissions levels even higher—far higher than the planet could afford. How do we negotiate equity in situations like this? 

The panelists continually emphasized the fact that not everyone contributes to climate change equally, nor are they affected by climate change equally. Unfortunately, it is often those who come from higher-risk backgrounds, (and those who may even possess less resources to negatively affect the climate) that are disproportionally effected by climate change. Cecil Corbin-Mark spoke of the roots of the environmental justice movement, communicating that its basis is in the gathering and action of people of color. The environmental justice movement was and has been centered on the effects of climate change on people rather than just nature in itself. As mentioned previously, climate change disproportionately affects people of lower income backgrounds and people of color. This puts a racial lens on environmental issues that cannot be ignored, yet, unfortunately, has been neglected by most climate change policy.

The new CPP Rule promotes the incineration of waste and even grants carbon credits to these “waste to energy” facilities. Dr. Nicky Sheats emphasized the fact that an overwhelming majority of incineration facilities are located in communities of color and low income. These communities are receiving no benefits from these facilities. They provide almost no jobs to residents, yet they are resource-draining in the community. What these communities do receive are the resulting health risks, including illness and death from toxic ash pollution. This situation is seen time and time again in EJ communities, regardless of the type of facility or process that contaminates the environment. It is seen in my hometown and neighboring communities who are suffering from the health problems related to power plant emissions, as well as fracking wastewater ground injection. Future climate change policy needs to address EJ communities and the disproportionate detriments they face as a result of climate change.

image credit: @NewSchoolTEDC twitter – https://twitter.com/NewSchoolTEDC/status/659824936064786432

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