Rising Up, in Baltimore and Beyond

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Rising Up, in Baltimore and Beyond

The People's Climate March in New York City, September 21, 2015. (Photo via 350.org)

If we want climate justice — not just adaptation to or even mitigation of climate change — then it’s important to understand the structural drivers of the crisis.

I’m thinking about those drivers today, and I’m thinking about Baltimore.

The story of Baltimore doesn’t start with the wrongful death of Freddie Gray. It didn’t start with the wrongful deaths of Mike Brown or Eric Garner. The deep anger that the citizens of Baltimore are expressing in the streets is rooted in a long history of oppression. And it’s that same history of oppression that has landed us in this historical moment — with an overheating climate, a politics of cynicism, and unrest bubbling up across the globe.

It is not a reach to say that Baltimore is connected to climate change. Inequality brought us here in both cases: the exploitation of natural resources by the few at the expense of the many, the exploitation of black and brown bodies and communities for the sake of profit (or cost-savings, or negligence, or simple racism).

Our work here at 350.org is about people. It’s not that we don’t care about ecosystems or “the environment” — for the record: we do — but we care about people urgently. We think climate change has the potential to make historic systems of oppression so much worse — and, conversely, we think the climate movement can contribute to building a fundamentally better world.

As I was thinking about writing this blog post, I went back and re-read Deirdre Smith’s post from last fall about how the work for climate justice is connected with the racial justice work being done in Ferguson, Missouri. (If you haven’t read Deirdre’s piece, now is the time.) Among other things, she talks about climate injustice: how the impact of Hurricane Katrina specifically was felt so much more deeply by New Orleans’ communities of color.


Naomi Klein Block


In New Orleans, Katrina. In New York, Sandy.

In my home city of Los Angeles, the impacts of climate change are likewise disproportionately felt by communities of color. As California grapples with the most intense drought of my lifetime, black and brown folks in Southern California and the Central Valley are faced with climbing water costs and declining agricultural livelihoods. Some majority-Latino towns in the Central Valley have run completely dry.

Neither the California drought nor police violence in Baltimore are isolated incidents. In fact, these stories are becoming far too familiar.

People, though, are rising up: #BlackLivesMatter is taking and holding the world’s attention. Fight for 15 has become a powerful megaphone for historically-silenced workers (whose struggle we support and think is critical for a just transition). And every day, the climate movement clamors for that better world more loudly.

The fight for climate justice is the fight for economic and racial justice. We will not succeed in dismantling the drivers of climate change until we look at the root causes of systemic oppression.

Today, as we read the headlines about the six Baltimore police officers actually being charged for the death of Freddie Gray, we know we are being heard. Now let’s keep breaking these systems down together.

Rae Breaux

Rae Breaux is the Lead Climate Justice Organizer with People’s Action. Her family hails from the great state of Louisiana, a place rich with culture and history, and a place that we risk losing to climate change.

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