TWO WEEKS BEFORE the commencement of President Trump’s reign of error, the New York Times reported that in an effort to undermine strong public support for policies to prevent climate chaos, an organization financed by Charles and David Koch had launched an effort to convince nonwhite voters in particular that they are not at risk from dirty energy.
As Grist’s Katie Herzog notes:
[In December 2016], the group sponsored a toy drive and gospel concert in Richmond, Virginia. The event included a panel discussion on how the holidays were only possible thanks to oil and gas. What went unsaid, of course, was that people of color are far more likely to be harmed by the fossil fuel industry than helped…Asthma is more common among black people than white people, partially because they’re more likely to live near coal-fired power plants and other fossil-fuel infrastructure. That’s not exactly because they want those plants in their neighborhoods; it’s because they have less power to fight them.
This was not the first time the Kochs attempted to buy favor from communities of color. In 2014, the Kochs donated $25 million to the United Negro College Fund in a transparent attempt to reduce hostility to their anti-regulatory obsession. Those on the front lines of climate change must push back aggressively against this swindle, as well as the efforts by President Trump to further harm the health of communities of color.
All one has to do is recall the images from Hurricane Katrina – or the scenes of devastation in Far Rockaway, Queens, as shown in Episode 7 of the first season of the 2014 documentary Years of Living Dangerously – to know the disproportionately devastating impact human-caused climate change will have on the most vulnerable members of the US population, to say nothing of the impact it will have on the poor overseas.
Just because President Trump and the GOP-controlled House and Senate are callous to the cause of climate justice doesn’t mean the public should allow an assault on the atmosphere to take place.
The stakes are particularly high for communities of color. Trump’s proposed budget would bludgeon the Environmental Protection Agency, abolishing the organization’s crucially important environmental justice office, which prior to Trump taking office had made measurable progress in closing the health gap (in terms of exposure to pollution) between white and nonwhite Americans. By planning to drastically slash EPA’s staff, abolish former President Barack Obama’s initiative to reduce pollution from power plants, and eliminate Obama’s strong standards to reduce harmful automobile emissions, Trump and EPA adversary-turned-administrator Scott Pruitt have sent a clear message to America’s most vulnerable: Your lives never mattered to us.
The resistance to this radicalism will take many forms – not just a mobilization march in Washington on April 29, but also phone calls, emails, and tweets to elected officials encouraging them to push back forcefully against the Trump-Pruitt agenda of pollution and prejudice.
The strongest voices of resistance will come from undergraduate and graduate students, especially students of color, who have the most to gain from a clean-energy future – and the most to lose from our continued dependence on dirty energy. Clean-energy jobs hold the potential to remedy the income-inequality crisis as well as the climate crisis. Employment that cannot be outsourced can be a bedrock for economic stability from generation to generation. The fight for a clean-energy future is therefore a fight for economic as well as ecological survival.
When Donald Trump attacked communities of color during the campaign, he attacked those who will endure the worst consequences of the climate crisis. As climate journalist Peter Sinclair has long documented, there is a nexus between anti-science views and anti-minority sentiment; the same lack of empathy that causes one to ignore the plight of communities of color also causes one to ignore the scientific evidence that points to a crisis that may put such communities in even worse condition.
Only the full political engagement of communities of color in the fight against the climate crisis can overcome this threat.
D.R. Tucker is a member of the executive committee of the Massachusetts Sierra Club.