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Environmental Defense Fund's Virtual Event Discusses Systemic Racism and Environmental Justice

Environmental Defense Fund's Virtual Event Discusses Systemic Racism and Environmental Justice

As one of the world’s leading environmental organizations, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) uses science and different perspectives to make the environment safer and healthier for us all. The EDF has hosted a few Instagram live events to further dive into the environmental and climate justice conversation.

On February 22, 2021, the EDF featured an Instagram live event with host Margot Brown and guest Reverend Yearwood. Margot Brown is the Associate Vice President of the Environmental Justice and Equity Initiatives at the EDF. 

She introduced her drive to create a durable and sustainable comprehensive environmental justice program. In her Instagram Live she brought on president and founder of the Hip Hop Caucus Reverend Yearwood.

Reverend Yearwood and the Hip Hop Caucus

The Hip Hop Caucus is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that strives to use the power of cultural expression to empower communities who worst impacted by injustice. 

The Hip Hop Caucus continues to discuss topics like racial injustice, healthy communities, and a healthy planet. Climate change and environmental justice are primary focus areas for the Hip Hop Caucus.

Pollution and climate impacts affect the BIPOC community exponentially. The Hip Hop Caucus wants to stop and reverse these detrimental impacts to create a healthier planet for all.

Reverend Yearwood is one of the most influential people in the hip hop/political world. His goal is to bridge the gap between communities of color and environmental advocacy. Reverend Yearwood has launched numerous campaigns calling for divestment in fossil fuels, increasing diversity in the climate movement, and ensuring everyone has clean air and water. His campaigns include the Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign and Respect My Vote!

Systemic Racism and the Environmental Justice Movement

During the event, Margot Brown defined the purpose and drive behind this movement, “The environmental justice movement has been shaped primarily by African American, Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans. The ‘EJ Movement’ was created to address one statistical fact: people who live, work, and play in America’s most polluted environments are commonly people of color with low incomes.”

In Warren County, North Carolina, in 1982, there was a protest against a hazardous waste landfill that was set to be placed in a small, predominantly African American community. The NAACP and others also organized a massive protest.

Reverend Yearwood recalled their outcry, “It’s unfair to put your waste and pollution in these communities of color, therefore making them sacrifice zones and cities. This perpetuating systemic racism hurts these communities by giving citizens cancer, asthma, emphysema, or death.

Environmental justice is the unequal treatment regarding the environmental disasters for pollution to one set of communities. These communities tend to be BIPOC communities. Fossil Fuel industries and pollution companies’ business plans cannot be a death sentence for these communities.”

Margot Brown called out the social constructs created that caused thousands of people to sit outside the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. Recently, hundreds of thousands of people were left without power and water in Texas.

She asked Reverend Yearwood about the motivations behind his work. “What we are dealing with are systems of white supremacy and racism which lead to environmental racism. In essence, people sitting in positions of power are saying that these communities can be polluted.

They suffer first and worst to the climate crisis, yet they’re the ones that contribute the least to the climate crisis. But when a disaster happens, they suffer the worst from the impacts. These communities just have to live with the effects of the climate crisis.”

“Power Up, America” and “Think 100%” Initiatives: Electric Power and a Climate Communications and Activism Platform

The EDF’s Power Up, America! initiative calls for 100% clean electric power and new cars with zero pollution by 2035. They want to encourage the transformation of the transportation sector to help create jobs, improve the economy, and foster healthy communities. 

Think 100% is an engagement platform for young people to get informed on the climate crisis and debate justice for our planet and all of its people. Reverend Yearwood helped launch Think 100%, and, when asked about the goals of this campaign, he remembered why he joined the EJ movement in the first place.

“I am originally from Louisiana,” Reverend Yearwood said, “and, being from Louisiana, I had the hard moment of seeing my family and friends drowning in Hurricane Katrina and seeing them drown in the richest country in the world.

I saw family and friends literally hurting, and now I see that recently in Texas too. I knew I wanted to get engaged, and, with the Hip Hop Caucus, I was able to connect the dots professionally. This organization uses one’s cultural expression to set one’s political experience. They use the beat to make change happen. That was the beginning of my journey in connecting the dots of what we have now.”

The Hip Hop Community and the Future of Environmental Justice

When asked how the hip hop community defines justice, Reverend Yearwood replied, “Justice means that when communities have been wronged, we can make it right. We can take that harm and make it from a negative to a positive. The Black Lives Matter movement made people come together and say that it is wrong and we need to change it. 

When George Floyd was killed, he uttered the words ‘I can’t breathe.’ As he says those words, many others are saying that as well. 68% of black people live within 30 miles of a co-fire power plant, and many of them are saying ‘I can’t breathe.’ If we take care of the people, then we can take care of the planet.”

To finish off the live event, Reverend Yearwood left us with these thought-provoking words. “The reality of this moment is that this is our lens counter moment for the 21st century. We are living in a climate crisis of hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, and snowstorms. We are also living in an acclimate decade where if we get it done in this decade, we can change the trajectory of where we’re going. 

This decade is the most important, and every single day is important. What you do every day regarding climate justice has a bearing on you and future generations. When we are successful, the generation after us will say ‘thank you because I have clean air and water.’ Past generations didn’t give up hope, and they fought for us. Organized people beat organized money every time.”

Margot Brown and Reverend Yearwood are perfect examples of climate champions using their platforms to have informative conversations. The Hip Hop Caucus’ podcast The Coolest Show is another entertaining way to engage in this critical topic. Their work will spur on this generation’s spark in making our only home healthier and safer for all to live in.