Navigating the Path to Climate Justice with Urgency and Empathy

Alicia Rodriguez
January 12, 2024
In the intersection of ongoing societal shortcomings and the looming threats of climate change, it's the disadvantaged communities who bear an unjust burden. The time for climate justice and collective action is pressing. Join us as we explore the intersection of climate challenges and societal failures, and unite in awareness, education, and a shared effort to foster positive, lasting change.

This past year in North America has been a scorcher—in every sense of the word. Wildfires in Canada led to record-breaking haziness in the midwest and northeast, NOAA predicted an “above normal” Atlantic hurricane season, and NASA declared July of 2023 as the hottest July the Earth has experienced since 1880. Discussing the weather is great for small talk, but we also must acknowledge the scale of real destruction, discomfort, and devastation due to climate change in 2023. And it unjustly impacted the most at-risk among us.

Let’s use wildfires as an example. Their increased occurrence across the western United States over the past couple of years has led to the displacement of countless communities and families. Wildfires pose an obvious physical health risk, as well as an emotional one. Along with dangerous levels of smoke inhalation comes housing loss, job loss, school closures, evacuation challenges, and psychological distress. While the threat is clear, it is important to note that communities of color are twice as likely to live in wildfire stricken areas, leaving them even more vulnerable to these adverse effects. 

In situations like these, where ongoing societal failures intersect with threats of climate change, disadvantaged groups bear an unfair burden. This underscores the crucial need for discussions on climate justice. It is more important than ever to expand awareness of climate inequalities and to center justice and equity in our solutions to the climate crisis. 

The journey to both of these goals begins with learning, and that became a priority for our team last year. We discuss issues of climate justice every day, and we look for ways to embed this awareness in every aspect of our work. We also started a quarterly book club as part of our learning journey to explore best practices and actions that both companies and individuals can adopt in addressing climate justice. 

We began by reading Before the Streetlights Come On: Black America's Urgent Call for Climate Solutions by Heather McTeer Toney. In 2004, Toney made history as Greenville, Mississippi's first Black, first woman, and youngest mayor. Following her historic tenure as the mayor, Toney received a noteworthy nomination from President Barack Obama to serve as the EPA's Administrator for Region 4 during his administration. In this role, she dedicated herself to advocating for justice in the communities she served. Currently, she holds the position of Vice President of Community Engagement at the Environmental Defense Fund.

In Before the Streetlights Come On, Toney offers an accessible and comprehensive guide to the harsh reality of climate and environmental injustices experienced daily in America, especially within communities of color. She describes a multitude of solutions that can be approached by folks from all access, skill, and knowledge levels. 

We are far from leaders in this space— there are many more qualified folks working on the frontlines. Our goal is to learn from people such as Heather McTeer Toney and amplify their efforts through awareness and education. As part of our team’s reflection on the reading, we identified four key takeaways that we aim to incorporate in our climate work as we continue our collective learning of the subject. We hope this inspires you to do the same: 

  1. Communities of color face distinct challenges in the impacts of climate change, rooted in deeply embedded systemic issues stemming from our nation's history.
  2. True climate justice emerges when those with ample resources to tackle the climate crisis actively deploy those resources to safeguard the most vulnerable communities.
  3. In our efforts to mitigate and address climate change, it is crucial to prioritize community-led solutions and listen attentively to the voices of these communities.
  4. Everyone has a role in dismantling oppressive systems and promoting solutions shaped by individuals with lived experiences.

You can support Toney's work and small bookstores across the nation by purchasing a copy on Bookshop.org!

Join Us! 

While the insights above may be overwhelming initially, it is essential to educate ourselves on these realities if we aim to identify and implement solutions to the climate crisis. If you don’t know where to start, we encourage you to dive in by reading these resources below: 

The Change Climate Project acknowledges that we are on a journey to learn from others with lived experience on this subject, and our journey is just beginning. We may make mistakes along the way and will always be open to feedback, suggestions, and collaborations on the subject. We hope you tag along for the ride and join us in our effort to make this world a cleaner, safer, and more climate resilient place for us all. Have something in mind to share? Reach us at hello@changeclimate.org

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About the Author

Alicia Rodriguez
Certification Program Manager

Craft beer aficionado with a strong passion for her Puerto Rican culture, Alicia brings experience in project management and customer service and holds an MBA in Sustainable Innovation. She looks to create impact and apply intersectionality to everything she does, and believes that everyone can—and should—find a role in addressing the climate crisis.

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