Earth Day 2021 brings both a new sense of promise and a broader understanding of the interdependence of our environmental crisis with those of systems of oppression and the threats against our democratic processes. The most promising development of the past year in environmental circles is the long-overdue integration of environmental justice into the conversation alongside climate change impacts, habitat loss, biodiversity loss, and overuse of resources. The mindset that rewards exploitation of land and natural resources treats people much the same way and has for centuries. People of color in the United States are more likely to live near factories, highways, and waste disposal sites. They are more likely to live in areas with unsafe water and inadequate sanitation which leads to chronic health issues. Indigenous people have fought for decades to protect sovereign lands from encroachment by developers and pipelines that carve up those sacred places. Yet the large environmental groups, led mainly by Whites since the 1970s, focused on other issues more likely to resonate with donors. While not yet complete, the change in conversation about environmental issues as social justice issues happens much more frequently today.
Neither repairing our environment nor dismantling systemic racism are not going to be fixed by individual actions alone, as important as those actions are. Rather, both require active, persistent engagement with the political process to elect leaders who understand the problems and are willing to push for reform. The challenge for all of us is that the same dynamics that enable ongoing damage to ecosystems and communities have also infected our democracy. Powerful interests continue to use the system to further concentrate power, and people who feel threatened by changes to the status quo (regardless of whether they actually benefit from it) will resist that change. It will not be easy, nor straightforward.
What can we at UUCW do? The work we started to dismantle systemic racism in our own processes is a necessary step. So is the work we continue to do to protect the environment through our purchasing choices and other behaviors. But it’s clear that we need to engage more actively in advocacy than ever before. Your Earth Ministry Committee will be providing you the opportunity to weigh in on significant environmental issues, both local and national. Look for postings on Realm and in other communications for tools and resources you can use to lend your time and voice. And if there are issues you are particularly passionate about, let us know.
If you have ideas to share or would like to write one of the weekly columns, please contact Earth Ministry Team chair, Rob Zimmerman.