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Environmental justice and the Green New Deal

Hundreds gather in San Francisco with the youth led Sunrise Movement. Photo: Peg Hunter/Flickr

There are a number of ecosocialist responses to the Green New Deal, converging for the most part around the recognition that though it is not the Green New Deal most of us would prefer, it is the opportunity to move the paralysis of the climate change movement very far in the right -- left -- direction that our times so desperately need.

This is a series of essays in six voices, from longtime activists who participate in the North American ecosocialist network System Change Not Climate Change. Each was challenged to make their point in 500 words or less. It was intended as a constructive contribution to the wonderful storm of discussion that the Green New Deal has opened up. Read the full series here.

The Green New Deal, like some sort of eco-superhero, has arrived at the eleventh hour. Naomi Klein writes hopefully of it as a plan to address global warming that at long last matches the scale of the crisis. Klein (co-author of the Green New Deal-esque "Leap Manifesto") has reason for optimism -- a Green New Deal is not a single policy intervention, but a systemic approach to transform our economy and energy system and build sustainable, democratically-empowered communities.

The point of the concept is in its name -- "green" and "New Deal." It marries the need for decarbonization to a reimagining of a just and fair society embodied in slogans like "climate justice" and "just transition." The Green New Deal concept has arisen from many quarters, including decades of work by environmental justice groups, the Green Party (which insists on defunding the military in order to fund life), and, more recently, the Sunrise Movement as well as rebellious politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who have brought visibility to the concept.

Both decarbonization and justice are crucial. Since climate change is engendered by a ruling class that exists via a class that is ruled, decarbonization won't happen without creation of a just and equitable economics and society.

While thanking Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey for beginning the process of changing the national climate crisis conversation, the Indigenous Environmental Network states, "as our communities who live on the frontline of the climate crisis have been saying for generations, the most impactful way to address the problem [of fossil fuels] is to leave them in the ground." The Indigenous Environmental Network is concerned that the Ocasio-Cortez-Markey resolution does not fully take on the fossil fuel industry nor the "fundamental need to challenge and transform the dominant political and economic systems driving social injustice and the climate crisis."

We are just at the beginning of the national conversation that Ocasio-Cortez and Markey have launched in Congress. As the debate over binding Green New Deal legislation moves forward, all "stakeholders" must look to the wisdom, experience, and leadership of frontline environmental justice organizations like the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Climate Justice Alliance, Cooperation Jackson, and many others.

If fossil capitalism is to lose the fight, it must be met by ecosocialism embodied in the strongest possible counterforce of environmental justice organizations and allies. The fight is on to implement words crafted by the environmental justice movement in the 1980s and still found, ironically, on the EPA website:

Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, colour, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

If people, organizations, and communities that have long suffered the effects of environmental racism lead the crafting of Green New Deal legislation -- partnered with allies who have not suffered on the frontlines but who actively support those who have -- there will be reason to hope.

Jennifer Scarlott is a founding member of Bronx Climate Justice North (BCJN) and North Bronx Racial Justice (NBxRJ). BCJN is a grassroots community organization working in solidarity with justice organizations throughout the Bronx. It is the Bronx affiliate of 350.org. BCJN and NBxRJ prioritize the justice intersectionalities of global warming and anti-racism. Jennifer is a member of System Change Not Climate Change.

This article was first published on Resilience.org.

Photo: Peg Hunter/Flickr

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