Addressing Environmental Racism Through the Green New Deal

Eliana Liporace

2021 needs to be the year of change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conjoined to give a special report, warning nations around the world of the ticking timeline drawing nearer. They reported that humankind has only 12 years to take action before climate change disruption becomes irreversible. That was three years ago. 

The Green New Deal is the most comprehensive proposal to date in the U.S. It  not only addresses American petrochemical emissions and it’s gaping carbon footprint, but also the restoration of the middle class, social dislocation, and racial and economic disparities running rampant decades after F.D.R. ‘s numerous policies to combat the effects of the Great Depression. Proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, the Green New Deal has become a congressional resolution mapping out a step-by-step process in tackling this nation’s efforts against climate change. 

In the past, topics of climate change have not been prioritized as part of the fight for racial equality. However, environmental racism is very real and unfortunately very much still prevalent in today’s society. 

What is Environmental Racism?

According to a World Economic Forum article titled “What is environmental racism?,” the phrase can be defined as “a form of systemic racism whereby communities of colour are disproportionately burdened with health hazards through policies and practices that force them to live in proximity to sources of toxic waste such as sewage works, mines, landfills, power stations, major roads and emitters of airborne particulate matter. As a result, these communities suffer greater rates of health problems attendant on hazardous pollutants.”

What Does This Have to Do With the Green New Deal? 

African American and Latino populations in the U.S. have been observed to be the most highly affected, both personally and health-wise, by growing climate change concerns and progressions. Republicans in Congress, however, argue that the Deal is “elitist.” According to Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, “if you’re a poor family, just trying to make ends meet, [The Green New Deal]’s a horrible idea.” This label is unfounded as the senior director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program stated, “it’s the very antithesis of an elitist situation, because communities of color, low-income communities, women and indigenous communities are actually disproportionately impacted.”

The Green New Deal proposes a number of initiatives to increase and create new, green jobs while bolstering the economy. Such programs may specifically uplift African Americans as they are burdened by the highest unemployment rate of all demographic groups in America at 7 percent, prior to the pandemic. 

Although unspecific, the Deal states that, “a new national, social, industrial and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal is a historic opportunity – (1) to create millions of good, high wage jobs in the United States; (2) to provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all people in the United States; and (3) to counteract systemic injustice.”

The 10-year mobilization plan highlights many ambitious goals aimed to uplift people of color in America. For one thing, it’s industrial policy proposal prioritizes communities facing racial, economic, and environmental disparities over the White working class. Furthermore, the progressive nature of this proposal reflects the people’s wishes as it calls for universal healthcare, job guarantees, worker’s compensation, and more. 

Named after F.D.R.’s New Deal, Representative Ocasio-Cortez wishes to create a similar full-scale, fast-paced resolution that would essentially aim to overhaul U.S. energy sources from 80 percent petrochemical derivation to sustainable sources. Unlike the former President’s plan, however, the Green New Deal will not elevate the country at the hands of exploited people of color. This is why a bold, progressive step must be taken to effectively sweep the nation of its ineffective snail speed for something much more ambitious. These policies have only garnered popular support and with your help, they could finally be put into place.

What Can I Do To Get Involved?

Although standing up to such an immense, socially-ingrained system like environmental racism can seem daunting, using your voice to uplift others is absolutely necessary. You may think you’re too young, uninformed, or small to make actual change, but by spreading awareness, you are making a difference. Start by taking the time out of your day to write articles, reach out to local, state, and federal legislators, join activist groups, and use your voice. Advocate for systemic change by speaking out against unscrupulous corporations who take advantage of a faulty system for their own personal gain. 

There are thousands of petitions all over the internet fighting for widespread intersectional change and it starts with you. 

Here’s one of many links that allow you to notify your representative and push for change: 

Another, by the Action Network, is working to demand congressional awareness of environmental racism: 

As I write this article, I’ve been signing and spreading the word of such petitions to my friends and family and so can you. The fight for fair treatment has just begun, we need you too.