What is the Reality? What are the Solutions?

Start with the remarkable, inimitable, exceptional National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, and her 2018 poem, Earthrise, inspired by humanity’s first swing around the moon and the accidental epiphany of the man with the camera that we are here to witness this moment. Having expanded our awareness, and our vocabulary half a century ago, it is now ours

To muster the verve and the nerve
To see how we can serve
Our planet.

NASA image, Dec. 24, 1968
Taken from lunar orbit by astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission

On May 2, Tyra Benoit gave a (virtual) presentation and led a discussion as part of the BUUF Climate Action Team’s Earth Month 2021 activities. She holds an MA in History, and has taught about world civilizations for more than forty years. She’s a member of the Climate Reality Project’s Leadership Corps and was with us in Idaho for two years, after surviving the Tubbs Fire in northern California, in October, 2017. (The Tubbs Fire was the most destructive wildfire in California history, until it was surpassed by the Camp Fire, the next year.) Here are some notes, ideas, and exploration that came out of our gathering.

The Sunrise Movement is envisioning the way forward through young eyes. We “elders” are challenged to figure out how we can work together, across racial, cultural, political lines, to recognize the intersectionality of economic, racial, climate justice. We (mostly) white folks are the beneficiaries of genocidal occupation of this land. We could have learned so much, had we listened. We celebrate Thanksgiving, feeling benevolent…

We share the love of nature, and of our planet. We acknowledge that the earth is not (just) our inheritance, but what we borrow from our children.

Temperature records are being set year after year, in nearly every location around the world. Temperatures in the 120s in Iraq, Pakistan, India. Climate Central reports Boise’s average summer temperature has gone up more than 5°F in the past half century. The impact hits those on the short end of the economy hardest. They don’t have shady suburban neighborhoods, air conditioning, reliably potable water; they have less access to good quality food, healthcare, more comorbidities… As Pope Francis said in his encyclical, “On Care for Our Common Home,”

“[W]e cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.

Pandemics, food supply, water, global health all intersect with environmental justice. Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from hurricane Maria, in Sept. 2017. Air pollution is estimated to kill 9 million people a year, three times that of the Covid-19 pandemic in a year. And bad air multiplies the effect of Covid-19.

93% of the heat from warming pollution goes into the ocean. Ocean temperatures are setting records. The drives more moisture into the atmosphere, hurricanes have more energy, become more destructive. More frequent, more intense events. Coastlines are migrating, displacing whole populations.

How can we address this fundamental inequity going forward, as its consequences become worse?

Tough question. We are looking for answers. How can we white people of privilege engage with indigenous communities? One answer is to recognize and respond to issues of environmental justice that reach the Idaho legislature. The Idaho State Journal just reported on the issue of dealing with mining waste in SE Idaho, and legislation signed into law last month:

In 2020, industry officials, DEQ experts, officials with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and others participated in a negotiated rule-making process to establish clear standards for new [phosphate mining waste phosphogypsum] stacks. Critics of the new law [HB 239] argue it essentially repealed and replaced adequate standards established in 2020 with weaker language.

The J.R. Simplot company spokesperson sounds pleased.  The Tribes are challenging it in federal court. The law removes Idaho DEQ monitoring of groundwater. The policy advisor for the Portneuf Resource Council, hydrogeologist Shannon Ansley, notes that gyp-stacks contain radioactive waste, arsenic, mercury, and other heavy metals, and that “if they leak it well affect groundwater.”

Other answers, and methods come from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee’s initiative for Climate Justice. One project is focused on protecting populations at risk of displacement now, not 20 years from now, working with communities experiencing the legacy of imperialism, colonialism, and exploitation. The UUSC is a member of the US Climate Action Network, now 195 organizations working to coordinate actions.

Right here at home, the City of Boise has a Climate Action Plan, looking at its buildings and facilities, water treatment facilities, vehicles, street lights, solid waste management, transportation.

The US Dept. of the Interior’s Office of Environmental Policy & Compliance has an
Environmental Justice page, that looks like it might have taken 4 years off, but may be coming back to life. Recognizing the connections between infrastructure, responding to climate change, and the needs of underserved communities.

Rosamund Pearce, “Visual data journalist” at The Economist has a datagraphic of a “pattern that can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution, when winds blew pollution east, causing the rich to flee west.”