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Voices / Viewpoint

Why climate justice is essential

Activism for a healthy planet and healthy people may feel like a luxury, but it’s as essential to our well-being as ventilators and hand washing

Marisa D. Keller is a freelance writer and editor and a member of 350 Brattleboro. Check out 350 Brattleboro’s Earth Day #RiseInPlace events or sign up for the mailing list at facebook.com/350Brattleboro.

Brattleboro

This April 22nd, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, join me in calling for action on climate justice and a Green New Deal!

“Earth Day?” you say. “Climate justice? I’m too busy sewing masks, making sure my family has food, putting myself on the line in an essential job, trying to educate my children, or simply getting through the day.”

As we struggle with the uncertainties and hardships of this pandemic, climate justice work may feel like a luxury. But it’s as essential to our well-being as ventilators and hand washing.

This coronavirus crisis has hammered home the glaring injustices in our society — the lack of adequate health care, the lack of protections for essential workers, the response of an administration that cares more about profits than people, and the greater impact of a crisis like this on marginalized communities.

Low-income workers are the people we’re depending on right now, the essential workers keeping us fed and supplied and cared for. But low-income communities suffer from high rates of asthma, heart disease, and cancer — tragically, some of the very illnesses that increase the risk factor for coronavirus.

Why these high rates of illness? Because low-income communities are less able to afford nutritious food and health care, and are exposed to higher levels of pollution. Highways, generating stations, fossil-fuel extraction sites, and industrial facilities are forced on low-income communities because no one else wants them around.

* * *

Our consumption of fossil fuels is not only the primary driver of the climate crisis, it is sickening the very people we depend on the most. And of course, the climate crisis itself will keep subjecting us to more and more difficult situations, from hurricanes and heat waves to food shortages and new diseases.

If after this COVID-19 crisis we return to business as usual, we will continue our downward spiral toward an unlivable world. We need to invest in health care, local food systems, affordable housing, environmental restoration, worker protections, and clean energy.

We need policy that addresses these issues in a comprehensive way.

We need a Green New Deal.

* * *

The world has just demonstrated its ability to pivot with remarkable speed when a public health threat is taken seriously. With the right leadership, the right support, the right vision, we as individuals can come together in our communities to make huge and necessary changes to protect ourselves and others.

As our country invests in recovery, we need to focus on renewable energy and equitable systems that prioritize the long-term health of people and planet.

Let’s build a stronger, healthier, more resilient world.

That is what climate justice work means.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #557 (Wednesday, April 15, 2020). This story appeared on page B3.

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