Most Effective Tactics to Explaining Environmental Justice

Justice on Climate Peace & ImmigrationCreator: Pablo Martinex Monsivals | Credit: AP

This post aims at providing some effective tactics to explaining environmental justice. Our friend Ryan Hagen, with Crowdsourcing Sustainability, shared a helpful framework a few years back that grounds us and gives us a place to start.

Two things to keep in mind:
  1. Climate change is so much worse than most anyone can comprehend.
  2. We are capable of transforming much faster than most everyone thinks is possible.
    We think linearly. But these things move exponentially.

    It’s not easy to listen to dire warnings coming from climate scientists, but we must not let that stop us from talking about the climate crisis every chance we get. Jane Fonda reminds us, that “If you don’t talk about it, why would you care? And if you don’t care, why would you ever act?”

    End Climate SilenceCreator: Adam Welz

    Our goal is that this guide can support you in discussing the climate crisis with an environmental justice lens to all types of people in your life. Please feel free to email us ( with questions, comments, and perhaps additions to this list!

    To climate change deniers and skeptics in your life:

    There are many myths that deniers like to peddle, so it’s helpful to have some rebuttals when these inevitably come your way. Additionally, we want to encourage you to consider the environmental justice impact in your responses.

    When folks say “scientists are divided” or “there is a lack of scientific evidence”

    More than 97 percent of climate scientists around the world agree: climate change is happening and it is caused by human activity.

    According to NASA

    "A consensus on climate change and its human cause exists. Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed journals show that human activities are the primary cause of the observed climate-warming trend over the past century."

    When folks say “it’s cold outside”... looking at you Jim Inhofe

    Extreme weather and temperatures (too hot AND too cold) are signs of a climate crisis. That said, overall temperature data shows rapid warming in the past few decades. The 10 warmest years in the 141 year record have occurred since 2005, with the seven most recent years being the warmest. This long-term trend of a rising average global temperature is called global warming.

    NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space StudiesCredit: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies

    Before you go all Trump on us about changing the name from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ because it “just wasn’t working,” both terms are used frequently and refer to different things. The distinction is that climate change refers to the changes in the global climate which result from the increasing average global temperature. For example, changes in precipitation patterns, increased prevalence of droughts, heat waves, and other extreme weather.

    If you’re looking for more — check out this New York Times article The Year in Climate News to jog your memory of stories compiled by the NYTimes climate desk in 2021.

    When folks say “the climate has always changed” and “animals have always evolved”

    It is true that the climate is always changing – there have been ice ages and warmer periods in the past. However, when folks peddle this myth, they are assuming that because the climate has changed from natural causes before, it can only be changing from natural causes now. Or, that because the Earth has recovered from climate change in the past, that it will again this time around.

    Either way, we believe there are two important distinctions here:

    1. We are currently experiencing a more abrupt change – caused by humans. Current climate changes can only be explained by an excess of CO2 released by human fossil fuel burning.
    2. Abrupt changes in Earth’s past were almost always highly destructive for life, causing mass extinctions. Evolution/adaptation is a very lengthy process.
    How we know we're causing global warmingSource: Skeptical Science – Human Fingerprints

    When folks say “it’s just a ploy for Democrats to pass their socialist agendas”

    While climate change was not always a polarizing matter, this certainly is one of the largest obstacles today. As soon as hardcore conservatives admit that climate change is real, they will shatter their own ideological scaffolding. A belief system that opposes collective action, corporate regulation, and all things public simply cannot be reconciled with a problem that requires these things to solve it.

    It is true that we believe confronting the climate crisis presents an incredible opportunity to push for broad policy changes. We believe that only by examining the root of why we are facing this crisis in the first place (hint: unfettered capitalism) can we dramatically rein in the market forces that are largely responsible for creating and deepening this crisis, in order to move towards a more habitable climate and a more just economy.

    In the words of Naomi Klein,

    "Climate change isn’t an “issue” to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet. Telling us that we need to evolve."

    She also tells us,

    "I am convinced that climate change represents a historic opportunity on an even greater scale. As part of the project of getting our emissions down to the levels many scientists recommend, we once again have the chance to advance policies that dramatically improve lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create huge numbers of good jobs, and reinvigorate democracy from the ground up. Rather than the ultimate expression of the shock doctrine — a frenzy of new resource grabs and repression — climate change can be a People’s Shock, a blow from below. It can disperse power into the hands of the many rather than consolidating it in the hands of the few, and radically expand the commons, rather than auctioning it off in pieces."

    When folks say “but what about fossil fuel jobs and the economy?”

    Let’s not forget the point we just hit - unfettered capitalism got us into this mess. We are no longer able to pretend that we can extract ever more without facing consequences, bend complex natural systems to our will, or allow our government to cater to the wishes of industry over the wishes of the people.

    On the other hand, the Green New Deal says it is the duty of the government to put people first and provide job training and new economic development, particularly to communities that currently rely on jobs in fossil fuel industries. 

    And the potential job creation is huge! For example, renewable energy creates more jobs per unit of energy delivered than fossil fuels. Additionally, a plan put forward by the U.S. BlueGreen Alliance, a body that brings together unions and environmentalists, estimated that a $40 billion annual investment in public transit and high-speed rail for six years would produce more than 3.7 million jobs during that period. And investments in public transit create 31 percent more jobs per dollar than investment in new road and bridge construction. This is promising from both a climate and an economic perspective. 

    Need more? Suggest your loved one watch Angela Francis TEDx Talk - How to get everyone to care about a green economy.

    When folks say “dealing with climate change is expensive”

    Yes, it will be, but that does mean that it is not a vital investment. See response above for how worthwhile these investments can be.  Furthermore, if we choose not to make these investments, the potential for a damaged environment and shrinking economy is clear — see here.

    The research shows that the United States economy could lose billions of dollars by the end of the century because of climate change. Specifically, this report lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health, and environment, including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest, and crumbling infrastructure in the South. 

    All told, the report says, climate change could slash up to a tenth of gross domestic product by 2100, more than double the losses of the Great Recession a decade ago.

    The report puts the most precise price tags to date on the cost to the United States economy of projected climate impacts: $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea level rise and $32 billion from infrastructure damage by the end of the century, among others.

    When folks say “why is it the responsibility of the US to solve and pay for” or “but what about China”

    Certainly all countries need to work together to decarbonize, but the U.S. has a unique responsibility to lead on this issue due to our legacy of settler colonialism, historical carbon emissions, and our current high per capita emissions. We have the capital, technology, and ability to transform our way of life and show other countries what can be done.

    To folks who don’t understand the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on communities of color

    We recommend you pause from reading this and go visit Leah Thomas’s org The Intersectional Environmentalist. She defines intersectional environmentalism as:

    "An inclusive form of environmentalism advocating for the protection of all people + the planet. Derived from the work of the Combahee River Collective + later, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectional environmentalism identifies the ways in which injustices targeting frontline communities + the earth are intertwined. Conversations within environmental spaces cannot minimize or ignore the injustices targeting vulnerable communities + natural ecosystems, but rather denote the ways social inequalities influence our perception of environmentalism, regardless of how subtle or obvious. In this way, intersectional environmentalism calls for justice for people + the planet."

    Check out IE’s The Resource Hub where you can discover the many ways social justice and environmentalism intersect with the topics and communities you are most passionate about, and spend some time looking through others that you’re keen to learn more on.

    Dismantle Systems of Oppression in the Environmental Movement

    We also recommend you check out “Racism Is Killing the Planet” by Hop Hopkins. Powerfully written, he connects colonialism, white supremacy, neoliberalism, environmental justice, and the climate crisis:

    "I really believe in my heart of hearts – after a lifetime of thinking and talking about these issues – that we will never survive the climate crisis without ending white supremacy.
    Here’s why: You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism."

    A sacrifice zone is the term used for communities that are right next to power plants, industrial factories, etc. and are constantly exposed to pollution. These are usually low income communities, predominantly consisting of people of color. Flint’s water crisis, fires in California, and families struck by rare cancers in Georgia serve as a reminder that public health has a critical role in the environmental justice fight. 

    Climate change impacts the social and environmental determinants of health - clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, and secure shelter.  Climate change has also contributed to a rise in respiratory illnesses and the worsening of existing respiratory conditions, especially in vulnerable populations. The combination of these preexisting conditions caused by environmental factors and the prolific spread of a respiratory disease like COVID-19 is one of the many reasons some communities have fared far worse during the pandemic than others. Additionally, the WHO estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, and heat stress.

    An overview of climate-sensitive health risks, their exposure pathways and vulnerability factors. Climate change impacts health both directly and indirectly, and is strongly mediated by environmental, social and public health determinants.Credit: World Health Organization - Climate change and health

    And finally, it is important to note how the climate crisis impacts Indigenous people and sacred land. Indigenous nations across the U.S. have lost nearly 99% of their historical land base over time. Furthermore, they were displaced to areas that are now more exposed to a wide variety of climate risks, like extreme heat, less precipitation, and increased risk from wildfires, according to this study. Justin Farrell, a lead author of the study and professor at the Yale School of the Environment said,

    "When we think about how to address climate change, we sometimes forget that past U.S. policies and actions have led to conditions in which some groups are burdened more by climate change than others. And so when we’re talking about Native land dispossession [and] forced migration, in the American narrative at least, it’s this story of past harm done … there’s less attention to, how is this an ongoing story about current climate risk? How is this an ongoing story about future climate risk?"

    This study shows that the U.S. needs to engage in “nation-to-nation consultation with tribes” and figure out how to deal with the effects of land dispossession, how to engage in landback, and how to promote self-governance and sovereignty of native people

    LandbackCreator: Willi White | Credit: NDN Collective

    To folks who believe climate change is the responsibility of future generations

    Seventy-three percent of people in the United States agree the planet is warming, according to a poll conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. And 62 percent of Americans recognize that the main reason for this warming is human activity: specifically, burning fossil fuels and deforestation and agriculture.

    However, the urgency isn’t there for many of us. Seventy-three percent of us also believe climate change will affect future generations, but only 42 percent think it will affect us in our lifetimes. We saw the water in the subways in New York City and the people on their rooftops in New Orleans, but we tell ourselves that we are too busy to care about something distant and abstract. And as for the solutions, we’re told - incorrectly - that they’re too expensive and ineffective, and so we wonder why we should bear the brunt of the financial impact.

    The IPCC report in August shared the most sobering report card yet on climate change and earth’s future. Here are the key takeaways.

    • The last decade was hotter than any period in 125,000 years
    • There are higher concentrations of CO2, and it’s growing at a faster rate than any time in the past 2 million years.
    • Extreme weather is on the rise in every region across the globe. Extremes such as heatwaves, heavy rain, droughts, and tropical cyclones have become more frequent and intense since 1950.
    • Oceans are hotter, higher, and more acidic.
    • Many changes are already irreversible, even if Earth’s climate stabilizes soon.
    • Humans are unequivocally warming the planet. Scientists can now link specific weather events to human-made climate change.

    This report is showing us that we’ve been choosing domination, extraction, and wealth accumulation for far too long. And now, urgently, we must make a different choice - to act for the wellbeing of our people and planet.

    To folks who are overwhelmed by the severity of the climate crisis and unable to imagine an alternative

    An APA survey found that two-thirds of American adults said that they felt at least a little “eco-anxiety,” defined as anxiety or worry about climate change and its effects. You are not alone! The mental health effects of climate change are very real and fortunately there are many resources about what we can do to cope and build resilience in ourselves.

    We recommend you start with this Eco-Anxiety Reflection Guide written by Rachel Malena-Chan with Eco-Anxious Stories. She offers a bit of structure to our thinking by walking us through a beginning, middle and end to process our emotions related to eco-anxiety.

    You can also dive into the Gen Dread newsletter to read stories of how others are integrating these tough feelings into their lived experiences and harnessing them for deeper meaning and action. We often feel less alone and energized in community. Additionally, in collaboration with The All We Can Save Project, Gen Dread shares resources for working with climate emotions.

    It can also be helpful for us to reground in some positive news and concrete action items.

    1. We already have what we need!

      We have the solutions to reverse global warming — check out Project Drawdown for more!

      2. Study shows that climate action is more popular when combined with social and economic policy.

      You know how we’re always saying that all social justice issues are inherently intertwined?

      This study means that we have an unprecedented opportunity for meaningful, systemic change on climate and racial justice. Think Build Back Better and Green New Deal. The time to push for bold, intersectional climate action is now. And it is clearly a winning issue.

      3. Here are some tangible action items you can take today:

        To folks who hear you but maybe want to dig into to some resources themselves

        We see you! We also feel like doing some research on our own and then jumping back into the conversation can help break down barriers.

        Your first stop should be our Environmental Justice Issue Page! You can find key issues, immediate actions to take, organizations to support + follow, and more resources to educate yourself and keep showing up.

        Environmental Justice Issue Page

        You can also check out our friend Crowdsourcing Sustainability’s guides for Best Climate & Sustainability books, podcasts, documentaries, and newsletters.

        Best Climate & Sustainability Books

        Let us leave you with these words from Rob Hopkins,

        "If we wait for governments, it will be too late. If we act as individuals, it will be too little. But if we act as communities, it  might just be enough, and it might just be in time."