Building Healthy Communities from the Ground up

CEJA Calls for Equitable and Sustainable Recovery in Aftermath of Hurricanes

The recent series of climate catastrophes have weighed heavily on our hearts and minds.

Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston and stands as the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history. Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc across Florida and the Caribbean. Hurricane Maria has ravaged Puerto Rico, leaving families in the dark without power, water and electricity. Heat waves and wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and devastating floods in the Global South add to this record-breaking sequence of disasters.

These events have taken a massive toll across countless communities. As the temperature rises and climate variability increases, we are reminded that our planet is out of balance. Each of these events has a direct connection to climate change, and our changing atmosphere makes these disasters worse. Rising temperatures and warming oceans undeniably lead to more atmospheric moisture and evaporation, extreme rainfall and stronger winds.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted in vulnerable regions and we mourn the lives that have been lost. As communities begin to rebuild, we must address the root causes of these catastrophes: the grip of Big Oil, discriminatory land use policies, legacies of systemic inequalities that undermine resources for communities of color, and the lack of political will to initiate the just transition our communities need.

We are outraged at the lack of swift and effective response from the Trump Administration to the devastation in Puerto Rico. Colonization of the island has impeded the delivery of aid and has undermined the Puerto Rican infrastructure, economy, and self-sufficiency, making recovery even more challenging. The federal administration’s offensive statements about the leadership of Puerto Ricans demonstrates yet again the racism and discrimination that undergirds governmental responses to disasters all too often.

With thousands of Puerto Ricans already leaving the island and more outmigration likely in coming weeks and months, it is an example of the new reality of climate refugees: hundreds of thousands of people displaced by climate change related disasters, irrevocably impacting cultural and national identities and coherence, and testing the capacity of other places to welcome new immigrants with open arms, at a time when xenophobia is on the rise in the U.S.

Environmental justice communities already live with a disproportionate burden of pollution, on the fenceline of polluting facilities and under the constant threat of environmental disasters. In Houston, oil refineries and petrochemical plants are located within yards of homes, schools, and playgrounds. An explosion following Hurricane Harvey released hazardous gases that made families and children sick. The floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey became contaminated with toxics from industrial development and impacted so many areas because of poor land use planning and a lack of zoning.

Similarly, CEJA members in California live right next to massive oil refinery complexes, fracking, and other dangerous sites of fossil fuel production, where explosions and leaks can be deadly. Legacies of discriminatory land-use development and reluctance to plan for climate-resilient and healthy communities for the sake of industry have created areas that are vulnerable to disastrous impacts from extreme weather events.

As Brentin Mock reports in CityLab, “An equitable recovery will be especially difficult in Houston given that the city doesn’t believe in zoning, the absence of which has concentrated pollution in the eastside of the city with the highest population of Black and Latino families.” This inequitable approach to lack of infrastructure and planning deepens the racial disparities already at play when it comes to exposure to environmental risks and the increased likelihood of displacement.

On top of the threats that our communities face from climate catastrophes, they are also confronting political attacks that threaten their human and civil rights.  While Harvey was devastating the South, Trump decided to recall DACA, putting the health and wellbeing of thousands of immigrant families and children at even greater risk.

The options for sanctuary are increasingly limited, especially with new storms. In Florida, families who evacuated their homes are now getting eviction notices. Some didn’t even get a notice and found out via TV that they would not be able to return to their homes. This kind of displacement is becoming increasingly more inevitable for people of color, not just because of climate change and extreme weather events, but because of discriminatory policies that push them into unlivable conditions.

This is the kind of displacement that we must fight. This is climate injustice.

We stand with organizations on the ground like Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S.) that are working with Latino families who are bracing for recovery from both Hurricane Harvey and Trump’s restrictive immigration policies. Donate to T.E.J.A.S. here.

We stand with Puerto Rican people, whose leadership, strength and courage is undoubtable and will call for immediate, effective and sustained disaster relief. Donate to the Hurricane Maria Community Recovery Fund here.

We stand with organizations fighting for immigrant rights, which is inextricably connected to the many ripple effects of these unnatural disasters.

We call on all of our elected officials at every level to act swiftly now for an equitable and sustainable recovery rooted in racial, economic, and environmental justice. CEJA will continue to work toward a rapid and just transition off fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. We can’t afford any more false solutions. Now is the time to rise together with a bold vision for climate justice.