Environmental justice must be at the heart of climate action


(RNS) – When President Joe Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August, his signing marked a new era in climate policy. The bill includes the most important government investments to fight climate change. For faith leaders, this opens up important opportunities to help protect God’s creation and advance greater justice for our communities.

For years, grassroots advocates, including people from various religious communities, have called on lawmakers to tackle the greatest existential threat facing humanity. Congress did not respond. Even as the worst impacts of climate change became increasingly evident, Congress remained mired in partisan gridlock.

But climate advocates have never given up hope. Even as agonizing Senate negotiations moved back and forth, thousands of voters continued to write and call their members of Congress, determined to make their voices heard. When the President put his signature on the IRA, their work was rewarded.

The IRA is a long overdue breakthrough, but there is still a lot of work to be done. As climate change worsens, we should also ask ourselves: how do we prioritize the most vulnerable among us?

Black, brown, and low-income communities have always borne the brunt of environmental damage. An Environmental Protection Agency study published in 2018, for example, found that people of color are much more likely to live near sources of pollution. The study also found that people living below the poverty line are exposed to higher levels of fine particulate matter – a known carcinogen – than people living above the poverty line. The authors concluded that “national, state, and county-level findings all indicate that non-whites tend to be disproportionately burdened compared to whites.”

The lesson for policy makers and administration officials should be clear: any climate action that does not recognize this reality will not only be ineffective, but also morally compromised. Caring for all of God’s creation requires a justice-based approach.

Fortunately, the Cut Inflation Act allocates $60 billion for environmental justice, including grants to support community projects and credits for renewable energy sources in low-income areas.

However, the scale of environmental injustice demands much more. With the success of the IRA now in hand, lawmakers should prioritize passing the Environmental Justice for All Act.

This bill was informed directly by affected communities. This would allow communities to hold polluters legally accountable for projects that use federal funds, direct federal agencies to further document the environmental and health disparities faced by those affected, and fund more projects to repair environmental harms.

Support for this bill is strong and growing. He has 13 co-sponsors in the Senate and 105 in the House – and Quaker advocates are working to secure more.

Next month, hundreds of people will join the Friends Committee on National Legislation for our annual meeting and the Quaker Public Policy Institute. During the conference, friends and advocates from across the country will lobby Congress to support the Environmental Justice for All Act.

In a recent interview, Dr. Robert Bullard – commonly referred to as the father of environmental justice – clearly described the stakes of this moment: “Climate change is going to deepen inequalities and disparities and widen this gap. That’s why this time we have to get it right.

Quaker commitment to land stewardship and environmental justice is not new, nor is it limited to our religious beliefs. Friends and people from many faith traditions have long argued that we must respect ecological integrity and the sanctity of the natural world. Indigenous communities have led the way in practicing care for the environment from a spiritual basis.

It is now abundantly clear that this work cannot be done in silos. Racism and discrimination touch every facet of our world, and the environment is no different. It is unacceptable that the consequences of pollution, waste disposal and the disruptive effects of climate change fall disproportionately on the poor, communities of color and other marginalized people. As a community of faith committed to honoring the faith of God in every person, we must work not only to heal the harm done to our planet, but to do so in ways that promote greater justice for the most vulnerable among us. .

Brigitte Moix. Photo via FCNL.org

The work of caring for God’s creation and building a more just and sustainable environment will demand of all of us. I find hope in the dedication of defenders nationwide. Their tenacity led to the passage of the IRA, and I am confident that tenacity will be what will eventually get the Environmental Justice Act enacted.

(Brigitte Moixis the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and directs two other Quaker organizations, Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)


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