With thousands of people marching in protests around the world, including in Canada, it is clear that the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has ignited long-held and deep memories of injustice. Despite the denialism of dinosaurs such as Rex Murphy, most Canadians realize that, as explained in The Tyee, “Canada Has Race-Based Police Violence Too. We Don’t Know How Much” (June 2). A current example is the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet still under investigation after she fell to her death from a high rise apartment, in the company of Toronto police. Relating to environmental concerns, the winter of 2020 saw demonstrations across Canada in support of Indigenous protestors at the Wet’suwet’en blockades of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, documented in “No Surrender”, in The Intercept. In their 2018 book Policing Indigenous Movements: Dissent and the Security State , authors Jeffrey Monaghan and Andrew Crosby examined four prominent movements in Canada, including the climate-related struggles against the Northern Gateway Pipeline and the anti-fracking protests surrounding the Elsipogtog First Nation. A June 3 article, “How Militarizing Police Sets up Protesters as ‘the Enemy’” is highly relevant for Canadian climate and social justice activists – re- published by The Tyee from an article in The Conversation.
The following selection of recent articles focuses on how policing and social justice intersects with environmental justice in Canada and the U.S. :
“‘This is about vulnerability’: Ingrid Waldron on the links between environmental racism and police brutality” in The Narwhal (June 3) summarizes an interview with Professor Ingrid Walton, associate professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, head of the ENRICH Project that tracks environmental inequality among communities of colour in Nova Scotia, and the author of the 2018 book, There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities. In the interview, Walton raises the January 2020 closure of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou, Nova Scotia as an example of environmental racism – the Mi’kmaq First Nations community had been calling for decades to stop the discharge of toxic effluent into Boat Harbour , but Walton argues that action took so long because “closing the mill was a risk for white people in power who were profiting from these industries. …With police violence, it’s similar. It’s different, but it’s similar in that the physical and emotional impacts on Black bodies are not the kinds of things white people care about.”
Emilee Gilpin, journalist and managing director of the First Nations Forward Special Reports series at the National Observer, writes an eloquent Opinion piece: “If life before this was ‘normal,’ I don’t want to go back” (June 1) . Emphasizing the need for solutions, she concludes:
“I want to live in a world where the murder of innocent Black boys and men is not a normalized reality, where Indigenous women do not get murdered or go missing and turned into a statistic, where reconciliation means reparation, where people aren’t shot with rubber bullets and tear gas for demanding accountability and change, and where every system of power is representative of the society it’s meant to serve.
I want to live in a world that listens and respects the natural world, rather than trying to dominate, colonize and control it. I want to live in a world where diverse worldviews and ways of being are celebrated, and where at the very least, at the very very least, everyone has the right to BREATHE.”
In “Racism, police violence and the climate are not separate issues” in The New Yorker, Bill McKibben states: “The job of people who care about the future—which is another way of saying the environmentalists—is to let everyone breathe easier. But that simply can’t happen without all kinds of change. Some of it looks like solar panels for rooftops, and some of it looks like radically reimagined police forces. All of it is hitched together.” His article reports on an interview with Nina Lakhani, an environmental-justice reporter for The Guardian, who discusses her new book, “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet” – the indigenous environmental activist in Honduras, killed for her opposition to a hydroelectric dam in 2015.
“Why Racial Justice is Climate Justice” in Grist (June 4) compiles the comments of five environmental justice leaders in the U.S.: Adrien Salazar, Senior campaign strategist for climate equity at Dēmos, New York; Kerene Tayloe, Director of federal legislative affairs at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Washington, D.C.; Julian Brave NoiseCat, VP of policy and strategy at Data for Progress, Washington, D.C.; Mariah Gladstone, Founder of IndigiKitchen, on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana; and Alvaro S. Sanchez: Environmental equity director at The Greenlining Institute, Oakland. From the article:
“We now know that coronavirus — much like police brutality, mass incarceration, and climate change — is not colorblind. It’s not that the virus itself differentiates by race, but, as with other crises, the factors that make communities of color more susceptible to it are shaped by the United States’ long history of discriminatory policies and practices.
Many of the places that have been dealt the harshest blow by COVID-19 are simultaneously dealing with other serious threats to residents’ well-being. Even under the cover of the pandemic, environmental rollbacks and pipeline plans continue to threaten the health of people of color.”
One recent study which links the environmental links to Covid-19 death rates was conducted by the T.H Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University – summarized by the New York Times in April). Two subsequent blogs from Data for Progress expand that focus to include the links to race and environmental justice: on May 6, “In Georgia, Coronavirus and Environmental Racism Combine”, and on May 19 “The Bronx Is An Epicenter for Coronavirus and Environmental Injustice “. Among the alarming statistics: “Data from the New York City Department of Health finds that the asthma hospitalization rate for children in the Bronx is 70 percent higher than the rest of NYC and 700 percent higher than the rest of New York State, excluding New York City.”
On May 27, the CBC reported on the “hot spots” of Covid incidence in the Greater Toronto area, corresponding to low income neighbourhoods with high density. Ontario data collection and transparency has been widely criticized.
How is the environmental movement responding to calls for racial justice?
“Responding to protests, green groups reckon with a racist past” in Grist (June 1) reviews the performance of U.S. environmental groups: “The League of Conservation Voters, Earthjustice, 350.org, and the Sierra Club also issued statements condemning the killing of George Floyd and vowing to work towards racial justice. “There is no just recovery for climate, without addressing the systemic extraction, harm and violence towards Black communities,” said 350.org in a statement on its website.”
An Open Letter sent to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights includes environmental groups among the 446 signatory groups. The letter begins: “we urge you to take swift and decisive legislative action in response to ongoing fatal police killings and other violence against Black people across our country.” Environmental groups signing on include: Greenpeace USA, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, NextGen America, and the Sierra Club.
“Black environmentalists talk about climate change and anti-racism” in the New York Times (June 3). This article summarizes interviews with three U.S. environmental activists: Sam Grant, executive director of MN350.org, (Minnesota affiliate of 350.org); Robert D. Bullard , professor at Texas Southern University and a expert who has written about environmental racism for more than 30 years; and Heather McGhee, a senior fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group, and the author of a forthcoming book called “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”
“An anti-racist climate movement … should be led by “a real multiracial coalition that endorses environmental justice principles” and its goals should seek to uplift the most vulnerable. That means,… the creation of green jobs, rather than cap-and-trade policies that allow companies to keep polluting in communities of color as they have been able to do for decades….. Success is measured by the improvement in the environmental and economic health of the people who have borne the brunt of our carbon economy.”