EPPN Creation Care Series: Environmental Racism
Throughout our EPPN Creation Care Series, we have explored the call to love God in creation. Challenged to see the complexity of our responsibilities, we have not only learned about the need to act swiftly on energy reform and resource sustainability, but also that any action must be undertaken thoughtfully and with consideration for the impact it will have on our neighbors near and far. Movement away from current energy sources will lead to the loss of jobs and the degradation of regional cultures. A switch toward renewable energy will require land use that could affect people in their daily lives. Changes in trade and manufacturing might lead to a higher cost of products, leaving some in America unable to afford their usual goods or amenities. We are blessed to be able to see this complexity because we have learned from history and reason, and we must look toward solutions that create a better future while minimizing and addressing negative side effects.
Presiding Bishop Curry frequently teaches about the Way of Love, Jesus’ call in the New Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. The New Commandment requires Christians to fight injustice as it is antithetical to love. We must acknowledge racism’s long history in the United States that has permeated all aspects of our society and life together. One form of injustice is environmental racism, the cumulative and disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. This is exhibited in policies and plans surrounding land use, energy production, waste management, and many other ways that lead to certain communities bearing the brunt of negative environmental impacts, such as higher levels of pollution and environmental degradation. Environmental racism is also caused, in part, by intentional neglect, lack of institutional power, and low land values or economic segregation of people of color throughout American history.
This political, economic, and social disenfranchisement for non-majority populations over the entirety of America’s history has had profound cumulative and indirect effects. Low cost of land near disenfranchised populations has led to more landfills, toxic waste facilities, transportation infrastructure projects, and power plants in those areas as well as the inverse of groups only being able to afford homes in dangerous areas. This leaves minority populations more susceptible to unhealthy exposure to air and water pollution, radiation, and other contaminants in their food, water, living quarters, and workplaces without equal access to a voice in these government decisions. Significant attention has been paid in recent years to communities of color such as Flint, Michigan for the lack of public investment in clean water infrastructure, resulting in dangerous levels of lead. We have also seen widespread protests over building pipelines through or on native land. The Episcopal Church joined with the community of Standing Rock to urge the U.S. government to respect this sacred ground.
Internationally, a lack of care and concern for others has resulted in environmental racism toward the global south, those nations south of the equator. This is manifested in extractive industries that destroy habitats and ecosystems and extract natural resources without investment in the community. Electronic waste, the improper disposal of phones, computers, TV’s, tablets, et al, also hurts communities in many places around the world, particularly in South America. According to the UN, only 20% of an annual 50 metric tons of waste were properly disposed of. Europe and North America produce a combined 24 tons of electronic waste. These discarded devices end up in landfills or burned – often in the global south – where they put dangerous chemicals into the air, soil, and water.
In 2018, The Episcopal Church affirmed that no community - especially poor communities, those who live closest to the land in subsistence cultures, and members of marginalized ethnic groups - should bear a disproportionate risk of environmental pollution or degradation. The Church pledged to be an advocate for policies that protect these populations, their communities, and the livelihood of their future generations from the disparate impact of climate change, environmental degradation, or unfair land use and pollution. The Office of Government Relations called to advocate for equal treatment of all of God’s people, including in the government’s land-use practices and industrial waste and pollution effects. Most recently, the Office of Government Relations has remained committed to the charge from General Convention to protect the sanctity of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska by opposing the opening of this refuge for oil development through advocacy for H.R. 1146, repealing authorization to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
One of the most difficult parts of environmental reform is that it is not straightforward. Evolving America’s energy system, mandating sustainability practice, or even change in energy and waste infrastructure can have unforeseen negative effects that are not environmental or ecological in nature. The second commandment truly is of great importance as we must love our neighbor in everything we do, including environmental policy advocacy.
In reading this EPPN Creation Care Series, we hope you have become more informed on the multidimensional solutions to the environmental crisis that faces America and the world. We thank you for joining us through this educational series, for equipping yourself with new perspectives, and for continuing to advocate in line with our call to care for God’s beautiful creation while considering Christ’s new commandment to love our neighbors.
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer, For the Human Family, pg. 815
For the Oppressed
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer, For the Oppressed, pg. 826
- Creation Care Resources
- Becoming Beloved Community Resources on Racial reconciliation, Justice, and Healing
- More on how OGR sees policy playing a role in becoming the Beloved Community
- A Just Climate Campaign
- New York Times: “The White House Saw Riches in the Arctic Refuge, but Reality May Fall Short”
- 2016 House of Bishops Visit to Flint
- Statement of The Rt. Rev. Mark Lattime, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska, to the House of Representatives on H.R. 1146 (March 26, 2019)