A Just Recovery is the Only Way Forward in North Carolina

Thousands of families and communities in North Carolina are still reeling from the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Those hardest hit by the storm are dealing with threats to their immediate and long-term survival. As North Carolinians and co-conveners of the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective, we’ve been partnering with frontline communities across our state and know their leadership is key to ensuring that recovery moves beyond quick fixes and media sound bites. Our Gulf South allies introduced us to a term they coined during post Hurricane Harvey coordinating calls convened by Bryan Parras; the term is Just Recovery. For us, a Just Recovery from Hurricane Florence requires systemic transformation that centers community well-being, environmental justice and long term resilience.

The voices and solutions of people of color, indigenous peoples, poor people, immigrants, farm workers and other oppressed and neglected communities must be central for a recovery process to be just. Especially in times of urgency, our focus should be on ensuring that those who have been most harmed by this climate disaster have the tools in place to recover with dignity and opportunity. Right now, those living in impoverished, rural areas of eastern North Carolina are paying the highest price, having to live with contaminated water supplies and toxic land. Many families have lost their homes and livelihoods with little support for permanent, equitable solutions.

Though media coverage has downplayed the role of climate change in creating wetter superstorms, Hurricane Florence is second only to Hurricane Harvey in the amount of rainfall and subsequent flooding it produced. In Texas after Hurricane Harvey, flood waters spread pollution from oil refineries and superfund sites into neighborhoods and waterways. In our case, the flooding from Hurricane Florence has impacted twenty-seven counties in eastern North Carolina, spreading contamination by hog manure, coal ash, concentrated chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and other pollutants like Gen X (a chemical used in making Teflon). As part of the Climate Justice Alliance, we have learned from other communities that have been hit by climate disasters in Louisiana, Houston, Puerto Rico, Florida, and New York and know that these contaminants will continue to pose long term problems including our ability to secure safe drinking water, farmable soil and safe housing for years to come.

Smithfield Foods, Murphy Farms, DuPont, Duke Energy, and Dominion Power — the corporations responsible for the production and unsafe storage of these pollutants — have for decades been putting profits over people. Our elected officials have given them the political cover they need to develop toxic industrial sites in our backyards at the expense of black, brown and working class people. These practices must end and these corporations must contribute their fair share to the recovery process and our state’s overall long-term health. One way to ensure corporate responsibility is by rolling back the corporate tax cuts scheduled for January 2019.

As the General Assembly convenes, North Carolina is in a strong financial position to provide survivors, their cities and counties with the necessary supplemental financing to help with recovery. Only 10% of homeowners in the affected areas have adequate flood insurance with many of the uninsured overestimating federal assistance. With a record $2 billion in our state’s Rainy Day Fund and a $500 million unappropriated balance from the state’s final budget, we demand that our legislature fully fund recovery and rebuilding efforts in our communities. It is also paramount that the state allocate funds to develop and implement clear climate action and adaptation plans for all of North Carolina. Many communities in eastern North Carolina continue to suffer from Hurricane Matthew’s impacts two years ago, which have only worsened due to elected officials’ denial of climate change and refusal to heed predictions that intensifying storms would cause widespread damage from flooding and co-pollutants. We can not wait for yet another climate disaster before we act.

Today, we need to rebuild our communities in ways that create thriving local economies that will provide dignified, productive and ecologically regenerative livelihoods with the ability to rebound after climate disasters and other emergencies. This is no small task given that North Carolina is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country with assaults on voting rights blocking meaningful representation in the political process. But we know that Just Recovery can be a pathway towards a Just Transition, moving us away from an extractive economy based on oil and gas, to one that is rooted in localized renewable energy and community self-determination.

When we resource the leadership of frontline communities to build alternative institutions based on race, class and gender equity, we all win. This is why people-to-people solutions are sprouting up all over North Carolina to demand a Just Recovery now! Communities on the frontlines of the disaster are providing mutual support and solutions where local, state, and national governments have consistently failed.

Through collaboration with other climate disaster survivors from Puerto Rico to Texas, we have learned that frontline leadership and support for grassroots organizations is vital to both immediate relief efforts and the ongoing political education that can shape systemic transformation. In partnership with over 30 organizations in eastern North Carolina, we have been working for a Just Florence Recovery, but we need support to continue this work over the long haul. As the focus shifts from immediate emergency response to rebuilding, the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective will be seeding intergenerational Resilience Hubs that will offer training in cooperative economics, healing justice support circles, skill-building in regenerative food systems and energy democracy, participatory action research and new climate equity councils to create local development models that provide good green jobs and fair housing for all those who have been displaced.

We will also continue to oppose the corporations and elected officials that are driving climate change and perpetuating environmental racism. We know that swift action is the only pathway forward if we are to make lasting change that protects all of us. Toward that end, we are calling for an immediate, full and just energy transition to 100% clean renewable energy, including: a permanent moratorium on all fossil fuel infrastructure projects and new power plants, decommissioning all coal, nuclear and gas fired power plants, reparations for all environmental justice communities, investment in regenerative small scale farming to replace industrial scale farms and CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), the allowance of third party solar sales, and the rejection of all biomass and biogas projects as false solutions. We can never safeguard against worsening climate chaos if we do not stop emissions at their source.

Without a commitment to a Just Recovery, North Carolina will only see more half-measures and broken promises in our future. Standard economic development approaches and disaster capitalism have only ever served to exacerbate social and economic inequality, which in turn causes further environmental damage. If we want a better North Carolina that is resilient and just, we must forge ahead with bold and transformative strategies that work for us all.

Jodi Lasseter and Connie Leeper

Jodi Lasseter is Co-Convener of the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective, an all volunteer organization and member of the Climate Justice Alliance. She is also the Principal of Turning Tides Consulting, a training and facilitation practice offering support to grassroots organizations.

Connie Leeper is Co-Convener of the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective and also the Organizing Director for NC WARN, a 30 year old energy and climate justice organization.

The North Carolina Climate Justice Collective is a member of the Climate Justice Alliance. For more information on supporting the work of the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective visit us online or contact: ncclimatejustice@gmail.com

*Photo credits: Action shots by Men and Women United for Youth and Families, actively involved in recovery work on the ground in Columbus and Bladen Counties, NC. Aerial shots by Greenpeace.