We Need A Climate Revival
After another year of record-breaking climate disasters, environmental injustices are degrading our communities, God’s Creation, and democracy. It is time for people of faith and consciousness to sound the trumpet of truth and expand our faith language to include climate and environmental justice.
Isn’t abuse of natural resources and pollution of your neighbor’s air a sin against creation? If you love your neighbor, you don’t pollute your neighbor’s air. If you love your neighbor, you don’t put engine oil in the storm drain — because it goes to your neighbor, rivers, oceans, and the fish. Ultimately, your neighbor eats the fish.
Low-income communities and communities of color have endured environmental injustice for decades, even centuries, in the United States. This year, it’s time to flip the script. We must move from degradation to resilience, from brokenness to restoration, from death to revival!
Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people disproportionately face dangerous and life-threatening environmental and health risks, from toxic dumps to polluting power plants, oil refineries, chemical companies, and other industrial facilities concentrated in their neighborhoods.
Former South Carolina State Rep. and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, Harold Mitchell Jr., said, “This is a critical moment to define bold and equitable climate solutions that address the legacy of systemic racism and environmental injustice while rebuilding the U.S. economy in ways that work for everyone.”
The “Climate Revival” we need won’t be fulfilled by any one policy or program, but with concrete steps that people of faith can push for. For instance, President Biden’s commitment to direct 40 percent of his administration’s climate and clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities could be a seismic shift for the climate justice movement. He solidified this commitment by launching the Justice40 Initiative through a landmark climate executive order signed in 2021.
This initiative aims to begin to redress the elevated levels of pollution, chronic disinvestment, and lack of access to capital in communities of color and low-income areas effected by discriminatory environmental, housing, infrastructure, and economic policies. Achieving the goals of Justice40 would set the country on a course to correcting persistent injustice by mobilizing substantial new investments in legacy pollution cleanup, pollution-free energy and transportation, workforce development, quality and affordable housing, and critical clean water infrastructure in communities that need it the most.
However, an executive order is merely words on a piece of paper and meaningless without concerted action, as illustrated by the Biden administration’s lack of progress in making environmental justice and voting rights a top priority. This is a contrast to the administration’s full-court press efforts to pass the bipartisan infrastructure package last year. The hard-fought gains that our forefathers made in voting rights were disregarded and, once again, Black people were told to be patient and wait by an administration we put in the White House and a majority that we put in the U.S. Congress.
The ongoing fight for voting rights is so much more than just about being heard. For communities of color on the frontlines of the climate crisis, this fight is about life and death. When the franchise is constricted rather than expanded, the inequities that have left communities of color and low-income communities at higher risk of devastating health conditions (such as lung and heart disease, asthma, diabetes, lead poisoning, and exposure to harmful chemicals and toxic substances) are exacerbated.
For the promise of Justice40 to become a reality for frontline communities all over the country, access to the ballot box is essential. The urgent need for political leadership on issues that address the deep inequities and racial injustices in our nation has never been more apparent.
We need fundamental change in our systems. We need leaders who share our values of loving our neighbors and caring for Creation. We need leaders who are committed to ending structures of oppression, ending environmental injustices, and tackling climate change.
Voting is how we make our voices heard and bring forth a world rooted in our values of justice, hope, and love for all of God’s Creation.
Over the past year, state houses across the country have passed a tidal wave of bills designed to disenfranchise people of color and obstruct our ability to get to the polls.
But we will not be deterred.
While disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis, communities of color are also leading the way toward change that works for all and we will have our voices heard in November.
When people of faith vote their values, elected officials take note. If we want a country that reflects our best values, we must participate thoughtfully.
The time is ripe for faith leaders to inspire the country by speaking about climate change, showing how climate solutions align with faith values, and teaching how those solutions benefit all of us. A healthy democracy equals healthy communities and a healthy planet.
Alecia Brewster, Program Director, Sustaining Way in South Carolina and Co-Director of the South Carolina Interfaith Power & Light
Rev. Emmanuel Duncan, Senior Pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church in South Carolina and the Co-Chair of the Greenville Interfaith Justice Ministry