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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Abdul-Rahman: Advocating for environmental justice in Black communities

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As we embark on a new year, I’ve had time to reflect on what I experienced in Glasgow, Scotland, at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, informally known as COP26, and what international commitments to combat climate change mean for vulnerable communities back here in Indiana. In addition to how unusually warm it is, thus the extremely close to home and recent debilitating tornados, spurred by climate change.

Simply put: We’re not doing enough, and we risk leaving behind those Hoosiers most in need both urban and rural. As we begin to see more funding flowing into our state to address the climate emergency, we have to make sure that money is spent in places where there is the highest need — frontline communities like where Black Hoosiers have long been vulnerable to our unjust energy system and the dire effects of the climate emergency.

Cities such as Indianapolis, Gary, Evansville and Fort Wayne need to deploy those once-in-a-lifetime financial resources to ensure real, systemic change moving forward. We have to make sure those investments are tracked and their impacts are measured.

As a staff and chair of environmental and climate justice for the Indiana NAACP, I was fortunate to be able to travel to COP26 with a broader NAACP delegation that included our National Board Environmental and Climate Justice Chair Kathy Egland, Chief of Strategy Yumeka Rushing, the Director of Youth and College Wisdom Cole and others. We met with delegates from Jamaica, the Caribbean and Pan Africa, and we spent time with environmental justice leaders who serve on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, such as Dr. Robert Bullard.

It was devastating to face how far we still have to go to mitigate what humans have done to our planet and to people who live on it.

Toxic facilities, like fossil fueled power plants and incinerators, emit mercury, arsenic, lead and other contaminants into the water, food and lungs of communities. Many of these same facilities also emit carbon dioxide and methane, the top two drivers of climate change. But not all people are equally impacted.

Race — even more than class — is the No. 1 indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in this country hit by climate change.

The NAACP has long been focused on environmental justice and climate justice as a human and civil rights issue. Our organization has called for more urgent climate action that seizes all fossil fuel extractions in order to cool the planet below 1.5 Celsius and demanded that developed nations make good on their pledge of $100 billion in climate financing to underdeveloped nations and contribute even more. As well as a need to provide dedicated resources for loss and damage. Calling a halt to deforestation and the wood pellet, biomass production that goes with it; stop the false geotechnologies like carbon capture sequestration, and amend article 6, in order to debunk the carbon market schemes and double counting that are immorally buying and selling our air.

Last year, through the leadership of President Barbara Bolling Williams, the Indiana State conference passed resolutions opposing carbon markets, and the national NAACP did the same this year. We want to address the root causes of polluting systems, technologies such as carbon capture sequestration continue to prop up the fossil fuel industry and are premised on dangerous mythology.

Taking part in COP26 was a remarkable experience getting to talk with elected officials at a Conference that is synonymous with ground zero for climate change discussions and advocacy. It was important to continue to help them learn more about how the decisions being made at COP26 affects communities of color around the world and right at home in Indiana. The hard work has to continue.

The NAACP will continue to reimagine, and work with our communities on what resilient and just communities should look like. Such as, can you imagine a community with community owned solar? A community that identifies a developer that will locally hire and provide apprenticeships and minority business contracts. Can you imagine the savings, the reduction in energy burden on each home, apartment, school, faith based, etc.? Now imagine the teacher salary increase, children’s access to better technology, faith institutions deepening their support to communities in need and so much more. Imagine the jobs that allow the child better access to healthy food and a thriving quality of life.

Our leaders need to make sure they are doing all they can with existing and new funds to prioritize reforms that will improve the lives of Black Hoosiers across our state who have been hit hard by polluting systems and excluded from equitable access to clean energy and energy efficiency economic benefits.

Anything less than real, meaningful action by legislators and leaders is a true injustice to Hoosier longing for a just and equitable transition to a green economic and resilient future.

Denise Abdul-Rahman is national NAACP staff and serves as Indiana state chair of environmental and climate justice for the NAACP.

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