Racial justice and climate justice are inextricably linked.

From extreme weather, to air pollution and rising seas, climate change disproportionately impacts communities of color, immigrants, and low-income communities across the United States (U.S.). According to Mary Annaïse Heglar, a climate justice essayist and former writer-in-residence at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, climate change “started with conquest, genocides, slavery, and colonialism.” Heglar adds “that is the moment when White men’s relationship with living things became extractive and disharmonious. Everything was for the taking; everything was for sale.”

Davarian L. Baldwin, professor of American Studies and at Trinity College and author of In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities, highlights that on-going social unrest and activism across the U.S. have prompted more colleges and universities to examine their racial history and acknowledge their roles in various forms of white supremacy. Forms of white supremacy, within the realm of higher education, include, but are not limited to, slavery, land seizures, residential segregation, and neighborhood demolitions. Work to understand and address these historical wrongdoings have only just begun, and will continue to be an ongoing process.

With ongoing efforts to meaningfully and intentionally integrate justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) into their climate action plans (CAPs), colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to build campus-community relationships, leverage cross-sector partnerships, and accelerate the work of racial and climate justice.

Definitions are important.

Anchoring terms like racial justice and climate justice that are stable and consistent in language allow us to work toward stable and consistent goals.

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Defining racial injustice and racial inequity

Racial injustice is the systemic unfair treatment of people based on their race, resulting in inequitable opportunities and outcomes.

Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing” Ibram X. Kendi from How to Be an Antiracist (p. 18)

Defining equity & racial justice

Equity is “to create conditions that enable just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper and reach their full potential.” Partnership for Southern Equity

Racial justice is the systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.” Racial Justice in Education: Resource Guide

Defining climate injustice

Climate injustice refers specifically to the unfair distribution of benefits and damages related to climate change. Again, a handful of humans profit at the direct expense of many.” Post Carbon Institute – Resilience program by Sam Bliss

Defining climate justice

Climate   justice   links   human  rights   and  development  to  achieve  a  human-centred  approach, safeguarding  the  rights  of  the  most  vulnerable  and sharing  the  burdens  and  benefits  of  climate change and  its  resolution  equitably  and  fairly.  Climate  justice  is  informed  by  science,  responds  to science and acknowledges the need for equitable stewardship of the world’s resources.” Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice

Linking racial and climate justice

According to Elizabeth Yeampierre, co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance, “climate change is the result of a legacy of extraction, of colonialism, of slavery. A lot of times when people talk about environmental justice they go back to the 1970s or ‘60s. But I think about the slave quarters. I think about people who got the worst food, the worst health care, the worst treatment, and then when freed, were given lands that were eventually surrounded by things like petrochemical industries. The idea of killing black people or indigenous people, all of that has a long, long history that is centered on capitalism and the extraction of our land and our labor in this country…For us, as part of the climate justice movement, to separate those things is impossible.” Unequal Impact: The Deep Links Between Racism and Climate Change,” an interview by Beth Gardiner

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Header Photo Credit: Romain Vignes on Unsplash