I’ve long understood that climate change was a justice issue.  As Bill McKibben reminded us at today’s Moving Planet event in San Francisco, the humans who created the global warming (and therefore climate change) problem are not the first to face the consequences.  The people in the so-called “first world” nations are the major contributors of the extra carbon in our atmosphere, but it is people in the so-called “third-world” nations who are the first to face the consequences of the changing climates.

The people of Bangladesh and Pakistan are already experiencing the consequences of climate change, but they didn’t cause the problem.  Where’s the justice in that?  It isn’t justice when one group pays the price of another group’s actions.

Well, another speaker at the Moving Planet event, Carl Anthony, made another justice connection that is new to me – one internal to the history of the United States.  Consider this sequence of events:

In 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that public schools needed to be integrated, and school integration began.[i]

In 1956, the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act was adopted,[ii] highways were built, and people started fleeing the urban downtown for the suburban sprawl.  We know who the people were who fled for the suburbs:  white people.

With suburban sprawl, made possible by the development of highways, came a huge uptick of the burning of fossil fuels and a huge uptick of carbon from millions of years ago being released into the atmosphere.

The racism that caused white people to leave the urban core for the suburban sprawl led to an increase of climate change gases in the atmosphere.

This historical revelation (for me, at least) leads me to ask, is racism one of the things that are keeping us from making the cultural changes that we need to make if we’re going to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels?

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