Working for Environmental Justice

In the first chapter of Laudato Si, Pope Francis addresses global inequality:

The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we 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”. 

A recent NY Times article by Linda Villarosa cited a 2017 report from the N.A.A.C.P. and the Clean Air Task Force that showed that…

African-Americans are 75 percent more likely than other Americans to live in so-called fence-line communities, defined as areas situated near facilities that produce hazardous waste.

And later in the article, the author writes,

The racial disparities that have exposed Black Americans to a disproportionate share of air pollution have risen to the surface to lethal effect during the current pandemic. A study of more than 3,000 U.S. counties released in April…shows a statistical connection between death rates from Covid-19 and long term exposure to air pollution. 

And this is just one example of the imbalances in the U.S. and throughout the world, where systematic discrimination materializes as an environmental crisis that disproportionately affects marginalized groups including African Americans, the poor, those living in war zones, and immigrants. In God’s eyes, we are all our neighbors.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis makes it clear that need to do more than just reduce our carbon footprints; we also have a responsibility to work for environmental justice:

We must continue to be aware that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities. As the United States bishops have said, greater attention must be given to “the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests”. We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.

Working together, we can help take care of our common home. 

Paul Litwin

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