Fighting for Environmental Justice Is Fighting for Racial Justice

Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images
Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Governmental neglect left majority-black wards destitute. Seventy-three percent of those displaced by Katrina were black, and more than one-third of them were estimated to have been poor.


Although the hardest-hit areas in New Orleans were low-income communities and communities of color, white residents were favored over black residents in the rebuilding of New Orleans. The result: New Orleans lost close to 100,000 black residents who were unable to rebuild their homes. This catastrophe and unequal disbursement of resources is the direct impact of climate change.

Katrina is just one example of how structural inequality and institutional racism have everything to do with how communities of color are left to deal with the consequences of climate change.


The U.S. has historically put very few resources in the hands of communities of color to help them rebuild after climate-change-related disasters but has found billions of dollars to prop up the fossil fuel industry in exploiting people and the planet.

Moreover, the CEOs making big bucks off coal plants, waste facilities, pipelines and factories emitting even more CO2 into the air are worsening our climate and heating the planet. Not to mention that coal plants are more likely to be built in areas inhabited by low-income people of color, indigenous people and immigrants.

The environmental impacts in communities living close to such facilities are clear: Rates of asthma and cancer are high, water contamination is a norm, and lead-poisoning rates among children of color are astonishing, among many other health impacts. We saw this environmental racism play out just last year, when the Dakota Access Pipeline was rerouted from a majority-white community in Bismarck, N.D., to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, putting their water source at risk of contamination.

Now, as the Trump administration rolls back hard-won climate and environmental protections in favor of the fossil fuel industry, time is running out to slow climate-change-related catastrophe, and vulnerable communities will continue to be the hardest hit.


It’s with this understanding of the pivotal moment we are in—one in which black and brown communities are mass-criminalized; in which immigrants and Muslims face a divisive anti-immigrant and Islamophobic agenda; in which the sovereignty and rights of indigenous people continue to be disrespected; in which LGTBQI people face homophobic and transphobic assaults; in which women are undermined; and in which the right of all communities to a healthy and livable planet is disregarded—that we must stand up for one another with extreme urgency.

This is why has joined the Majority, a coalition of more than 50 organizations committed to the multiracial, cross-movement fight for justice, freedom and the right to live fully, with dignity and respect. And this is why the Peoples Climate March on April 29, a full-scale mobilization to fight for climate, jobs and justice, with more than 290 sister marches planned across the country, is part of the Beyond the Moment campaign.


Beyond the Moment: Uniting Movements from April 4 to May Day is a call to action, a multitiered campaign intended to move masses of people nationally toward meaningful, translocal actions designed to expand and strengthen multiracial, multisector and local long-term organizing capacity to strengthen the fight for justice, freedom and the right to live fully, with dignity and respect for all people.

The Peoples Climate March fits precisely within this framework. On April 29, tens of thousands of people are gathering in Washington, D.C., from nearly all 50 states to put forward a vision of building bold solutions to protect communities and tackle climate change. The marchers, representing a broad spectrum of communities, will literally surround the White House to send a message to the Trump administration that its right-wing agenda puts all of us, and our planet, in jeopardy in favor of shortsighted corporate interests. After, we will do the work of listening to one another’s solutions in order to make inspirational local change.


We know that neither the causes of climate change nor the solutions to the crisis exist in a bubble. To tackle this monumental challenge, we must do so with frontline communities at the center of the conversation, making decisions and creating solutions together. Only then can we truly build a just society that works for everyone. The Peoples Climate March is instrumental to this inclusive movement building that emphasizes economic, racial and social justice as key to bold and fearless solutions on climate.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.


Thanu Yakupitiyage is the U.S communications manager at In addition to her work on climate justice, Thanu is a longtime immigrant-rights activist, media professional and cultural organizer based in New York City. 

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Marches and protests are always good. But its getting people to actually do something and act after all that that matters. A lot of these people that are participating are just doing some because its the thing to do now. And once they go home nothing gets done. but they’ll post all over social media and make it seem like they are so involved and they really aren’t. You gotta get people to care enough to be involved and that’s hard with certain groups of people, especially Blacks and ESPECIALLY with climate change. Hell most people in the Black community don’t even drive hybrids. If you cant get a brotha or sister in a Prius, its going to be really hard to get them to care about or know how climate change is affecting them.