On April 29, tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on to Washington, D.C. for the People’s Climate March, to challenge what they viewed as an attack by the Trump administration on the environment. Among the throngs of Blacks marching from the Capitol to the White House, concerns over environmental racism, toxic schools, and poor air and water quality in Black neighborhoods rang high.
Scheduled to coincide with President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, the People’s Climate March, according to Damien Jones of the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists, was designed to demonstrate how climate change impacts traditional social justice issues like racial, gender, and economic inequality.
“People are tired and have so much spirit to resist and fight back. There are attacks on climate justice and those doing that work. There are so many disparities across the board, but especially in communities of color,” Jones told D.C. radio station WPFW in a live broadcast April 28. “We need protections for the earth and protections for our most vulnerable communities. We must ensure they are spoken for and taken care of, so when you see budgets that cut away at those protections, it angers people.”
Across the country, cities with majority minority populations, including Detroit, Baltimore, and St. Louis, have above average rates of exposure to lead, asbestos, mold, and vermin infestations. In one 2016 study conducted by the Huffington Post, Detroit schools were found to be so heavily infested with rats, roaches, and mold that teachers staged a sickout in protest of conditions. It also found that in Baltimore, the levels of lead poisoning among children was three times the national rate. In February, a D.C. elementary school briefly closed for three weeks because of pest infestation.
“The numbers are staggering – 70 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal fire plant and that is a direct indicator of millions of young people dying of asthma in low-income and poor communities,” Jones said. “There’s this myth that Black people and other people of color don’t care about the environment, or are not doing their part to lessen their carbon footprint . . . that myth goes right out of the door because the environmental justice movement is made up of young African-American students at Black colleges.”
Another report by the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, “Coming Clean, and the Center for Effective Government,” further solidified the connection between race and chemical exposure. The report showed more than 134 million Americans live within danger zones around 3,433 chemical facilities – with 3.8 million living within “fence line” areas or zones that present greater danger, leaving residents near those areas less time to evacuate in an event of a chemical crisis. The number of Blacks living in fence line zones was 75 percent greater than for the country as a whole.
During the rally, Alphonse LeRoy, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, told participants that almost every natural resource in the country was being disrupted by industrial corporations, like the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. “I think first of the grass, plants, animals, eagles, birds, fish — without water, nothing will survive,” LeRoy said. “This isn’t just important for me; it’s important for everybody.”
The Trump administration already has moved to roll back former President Barack Obama’s signature climate initiative, the Clean Power Plan, and Trump and his team have taken many other actions to weaken environmental protections of air and water, and to enable fossil fuel exploitation on public lands and waters.