By Samantha Sancen, 2022 Called to Climate Action Student Leader
Talking about the climate crisis is easy; taking action is the most difficult part. While every person experiences challenges in implementing policies or practices to support climate action goals, for people of color and low income communities, it is even more difficult. “Climate justice” is a term often used to describe equal protection from climate change impacts. These impacts are proven to affect our most vulnerable communities. The climate crisis is intersectional. First and foremost, I want to stress that when we talk about these communities, it is not saying they are helpless or weak; these communities lack opportunities to gain power and get their voices heard. Uplifting and taking action should be a critical step in providing solutions and planning for a sustainable future.
Communities of color and low income citizens are disproportionately suffering from the climate crisis. They live in places where pollution and disease are high, leading to other issues such as healthcare access. These communities also experience financial burdens of destruction, impacts of heat for outside workers, lack of clean water, etc. It is a common misconception that these communities lack understanding or simply do not care about the climate crisis. but that is not the case. While there are already some organizations from the working class and people of color, some people simply do not have the time, finances, or resources to take as much action as they want to.
The experiences of these communities and families matter. While they may be more directly impacted by climate change, taking action is not the first thing that comes to mind, survival is. There are a number of cases of racism, financial burdens, job loss, property loss, inaccessible healthcare, childcare, which makes it almost impossible for an individual to want to volunteer for an organization, or take political action. Time, resources, and accessibility are lacking. When organizations, politicians, and religious groups promise to care for these communities, the first step is actually reaching out and providing accessible solutions. Buying an electric car, paying for solar panels, buying organic food, is not as easy as it seems. Even not buying plastic water bottles is difficult with lack of clean water. While everyone is responsible in some sense with climate change, people should not be burdened with high prices and time that they don’t have – especially when most of the responsibility is not on them. As Dr. Katherine Hayhoe says, “Those who’ve contributed the least to the problem are bearing the brunt of the impacts.”
I write this as a Called to Climate Action student leader for Iowa Interfaith Power & Light who cares about climate change and is passionate about the mission of Iowa IPL to inspire people of faith and conscience to discuss and participate in climate action. Iowa especially has an issue of uplifting indigenous voices about their land, this is why Iowa based work is important. But I also write this as someone growing up in a family of immigrants, Latinx, and in a lower-income household. I’m currently a college student at St. Ambrose University in Iowa and now working two climate action internships, something I know I wouldn’t be a part of if these resources were not offered to me. While I know I am extremely privileged to be able to take some action, it is not easy. After many years of constantly reassuring myself that I am privileged, I recognize that it’s okay to struggle and admit that it’s hard. When talking about vulnerable populations, my family and I fall under that category, and admitting this is not helpless. It is an understanding that I can represent others in the same boat.
There’s three organizations that really stand out to me when looking at environmental justice:
- Buffalo Rebellion
- DSM Black Liberation Movement
- Great Plains Action Society
While I believe every organization should incorporate in their own team the voices of everyone, there are organizations that already did the work and should be uplifted.
So I ask every organization, university, church, etc., to not only seek the experiences and stories of people on the outside, but also look at who is already present and dying to be asked for help. Again, listening is easy, but taking action is the most important part. Don’t forget to bring these communities along every step and be leaders in the change.