Responsibility for Environmental Impacts: Global North vs. Global South

Written by Franchesca Araujo

It's easy to look at emissions statistics by country and come to a conclusion that might not be entirely true. Emission rates by country can be misleading, since they do not adequately shed light on individual contributions.

Countries with big populations, like China and India, are often portrayed as contributing disproportionately to the climate crisis by those who do not realize that China has 1.34 billion residents while the United States has 311.1 million. What kinds of stark differences can we find between other nations and our own when we compare how much we emit, versus how much the average person in the Global South emits? What happens when we look at emissions per person and account for how much each person in their respective country consumes? How can this lead us to think about people's inherent right to a better quality of life? And how does Global South-blaming rhetoric unfairly demonize that human right?

Read this short article to learn about who contributes the most to the climate crisis and how this challenges prevalent first-world myths.

It’s over-consumption, not population growth, that is the fundamental problem: By almost any measure, a small portion of the world’s people — those in the affluent, developed world — use up most of the Earth’s resources and produce most of its greenhouse gas emissions,” says Fred Pearce.


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Environmental Racism

Written by Franchesca Araujo defines environmental racism as “the systemic structures that place disproportionate environmental burdens and hazards on people based on race and ethnicity. It covers polluted air and waterways within communities of color, a reality with which many White communities don’t have to deal.”

To learn about what environmental and climate justice combat, and about how environmental racism operates, watch The Atlantic’s Vann R. Newkirk II talk about where environmental racism  can be traced to historically, and about how it affects communities of color. Newkirk II links environmental racism to historical and contemporary public planning.

“Pollution and the risk of disaster are assigned to black and brown communities through generations of discrimination and political neglect,” he says.



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History of the Environmental Justice Movement

Written by Amber Houghstow

While environmental injustice and community protests against it have been happening for decades, environmental justice as a national movement came together in the 1980s, sparked by a protest in Warren County, North Carolina. Because of illegal toxic waste dumping, soil along North Carolina roadways had become contaminated with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). After collecting the contaminated soil, the state decided to dump it in a small, predominantly black community in Warren County.

Photo: Whispering Pines, the toxic waste landfill the state of North Carolina created to dump PCB-contaminated soil. It was placed in a small, predominantly black community in Warren County.

In response, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and others staged a massive protest during which over 500 protesters were arrested. The protest failed to stop the toxic waste from being dumped in Warren County, but provided the spark that grew environmental justice into a national movement.

Photo: Over 500 men and women risked their lives in protest to stop toxic waste from being dumped in their community, but the state of North Carolina dumped its contaminated soil there regardless. Outrage over the decision sparked the national movement for environmental justice.

Members of low-income minority communities across the country felt that, just like Warren County, their communities were targeted for polluting industries and toxic waste sites because of their race and economic status. In 1987, a study called Toxic Waste and Race confirmed the fears and the injustices they had been trying to communicate. The study concluded that “race was the most significant factor in siting hazardous waste facilities, and that three out of every five African Americans and Hispanics live in a community housing toxic waste sites.”

After a decade of growing realizations and even stronger community organizing, representatives from communities across the country came together for the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, DC in 1991. The summit was the first ever to bring together communities of color at a national level to discuss common struggles and find solutions. The summit resulted in a consensus document called the Principles of Environmental Justice, which laid out a process to communicate across the growing national environmental justice movement.

As a result of this organizing, President Clinton issued the executive order, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, in 1994. The order required all federal agencies to make environmental justice part of their mission and establish an environmental justice strategy.

Photo: Communities of color in Houston, TX suffer from disproportionately high rates of cancer due to toxic emissions from oil refineries.

Today, environmental justice is still a challenge. Unsafe oil and gas pipelines, polluting coal plants, and refineries that release toxic chemicals are still primarily sited in low-income communities and communities of color. The challenge is growing, as the impacts of climate change have been and will continue to disproportionately harm disadvantaged communities both nationally and at the global level. As the realization of these facts has become more widespread, so has the fight for environmental justice. Global inequality and temperatures continue to rise. Stopping the growing tide of injustice will require all of us. You can start on this journey by signing our petition here.

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Climate Events Domestic and Global

Written by Rory Redgrave

On Thursday, June 1st, Donald Trump announced that the United States would be pulling out of the Paris Agreement, the first ever international collective stance on fighting climate change. The Paris Agreement is built on a framework of transparency so that countries involved can track each other's emissions and work together to control and reduce rising global temperatures. It also employs a new financial framework to support developing countries, which are most at risk, in their efforts to prepare and fight climate-related issues.

By pulling out of the agreement, Trump has removed the second-largest contributing country to the global climate crisis from an accord where its participation is crucial. In his announcement to remove the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, Trump referenced the needs of the citizens of Pittsburg as his main motivation. He claimed the accord would not be beneficial to their economy, businesses, and well-being, nor to those of similar cities. An article written by The Incline details why Trump made a huge mistake in pulling out of the agreement, and more specifically explains why cities like Pittsburg will benefit from climate action and will continue to follow the Paris Agreement, as well as other climate organizing strategies, despite Trump’s decision. Even though the United States has pulled out of the Paris Agreement, there are many states, cities, and organizations still committing to the goals set by the accord. For more about the aftermath of the United States’ withdrawal from the climate accord, click here.   

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Allyship in the Climate Justice Movement

Written by Aviva Kardener

“When our communities are under attack, what do we do?

Stand Up. Fight Back.

When Frontline communities are under attack, what do we do?

Stand Up. Fight Back.”

You may have heard this chant before at one of many protests and rallies: for women’s rights; against the Dakota Access Pipeline and for Indigenous rights and autonomy; and against police brutality, throughout our country and the world in recent months. Protests in the Environmental Justice movement provide no exception to this trend.

The climate and environmental justice movement centers frontline communities, disproportionately communities of color, who are most affected by issues of environmental injustice. We as environmental advocates need to be accountable to these communities and use our own power, privilege, and connections to support their work toward justice.  While it may appear as if problems of environmental injustice are caused singularly by a few decision-makers, “our overlapping struggles are not against one man. Our struggles are systemic and entrenched, collective but particular.” Collectively, we must stand in solidarity as alliesasking how we can help, loving and uplifting the voices of people whose experiences are often erased and ignored. Evidently, “you do not need to be the voice for the voiceless. Just pass the mic.” As allies, we must simply realize that the livelihoods and existence of frontline communities are entirely connected with our own. Take your own time and space to learn about our respective privilege and the oppression people experience every day.

Right now, climate change and environmental degradation most affect these frontline communities. If we do not fight to protect their human rights to life, clean water, healthy, fresh food, safe and secure jobs, and more, eventually we will find ourselves in the same position with no one left to fight for us. We are reminded of Martin Niemöllers poem about his experience during the Holocaust…

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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Who Has Already Divested?

Written by Isabel Falls

According to, 732 institutions have divested fully or partially from fossil fuels thus far. These institutions range from museums and universities to governments and pension funds, and are located around the world. Over the past six years, more and more organizations and institutions have experienced pressure from their communities to invest in socially responsible industries. Hampshire College (Amherst, MA) was not only the first school to divest from South Africa during apartheid, but also the first academic institution to divest from fossil fuels in December 2011. Since then, 108 educational institutions worldwide have divested partially or fully from fossil fuels, including recently the University of Massachusetts. Notable museums that have also chosen to divest include the California Academy of Sciences, the Australian Academy of Sciences, the Field Museum in Chicago, and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (PA); all four of these museums have fully divested from fossil fuels. The New England Aquarium could be the first aquarium in the world to go fossil free.


Image courtesy of

Individuals can also divest by reevaluating their personal banking and by choosing to make investments in socially responsible organizations. The site currently states that over 58,000 individuals are cumulatively divesting $5.2 billion dollars from the fossil fuel industry. To find a full list of institutions that have committed to divest from fossil fuels, click here.

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How to Get Involved

Written by Gracie Jackson

If you've read through our petition or our blog posts and are wondering how to take some action, here are some of the ways.


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Why the New England Aquarium?

Written by Jordan Mudd

Why did we choose to focus on the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) in our #FossilFreeNEAQ campaign instead of another institution? The following are four of our reasons why:

  1. Fossil fuel divestment aligns strongly with the NEAQ’s mission and vision (public engagement, commitment to marine animal conservation, leadership in education, innovative scientific research, and effective advocacy for vital and vibrant oceans).

  2. The NEAQ has already done incredible work to advance climate change awareness and education through programs such as ClimaTeens, The Visualizing Change Project, and the National Network of Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation.

  3. The NEAQ is a globally recognized institution, and their divestment would encourage other institutions to consider socially responsible investing.

  4. The NEAQ takes pride in the services they provide for the Boston community. As a coastal city, climate change is a great threat to Boston, especially to its low-income communities and to its communities of color. Divestment is another important step that the NEAQ can take to mitigate the effects of climate change and to support the community with which it engages.

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What is Fossil Fuel Divestment?

Written by Baelyn Duffy

What is divestment? Why is divestment a strategy? How has divestment been successful in other campaigns? 

Divestment is the opposite of investment; it is withdrawing stocks, bonds, or investment funds from companies that profit off of unethical practices. Since 2011, a mass movement targeting divestment from the fossil fuel industry has grown. Fossil fuel divestment is a strategy many environmental justice groups have used to push institutions or universities to become more accountable to the communities they serve. 

You might ask, why is the fossil fuel industry so bad? The fossil fuel industry is the most powerful industry in the world, controlling not only business markets, but also much of the political world. Regardless of several fossil fuel companies’ efforts to portray concern about the environment, the burning of fossil fuels produces the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions every day. Greenhouse gases rise into the atmosphere, trapping heat in and creating huge changes in climate worldwide. These changes in climate cause extreme weather and climate events, like heat waves, droughts, floods, and natural disasters, which impact human life. With climate change rapidly increasing, we need to take action now and target the main perpetrator: the fossil fuel industry. 

Divestment is a great strategy, because it helps break the sponsorship link between oil companies and institutions, and holds the fossil fuel industry accountable in political and financial spheres.Eventually, fossil fuel divestment can break the hold that the fossil fuel industry has on our economy and on our government.

There have been many successful divestment campaigns in recent history, including those targeting violence in Darfur and targeting tobacco company advertising, but perhaps the most widely remembered divestment movement is the one which targeted the South African Apartheid. By the mid-1980s, 155 college campuses had divested from companies doing business in South Africa. 26 state governments, 22 counties, and 90 cities moved their money away from many companies that had business in South Africa. The campaign helped break the back of the apartheid government and helped promote democracy and equality by tarnishing the reputation of the regime. 

Most divestment campaigns, including our own, not only request divestment from fossil fuels, but also ask for that money to be reinvested in a socially responsible way. Luckily, there are many strong, profitable industries in our world to invest in which have socially conscious practices and which do not contribute to the oppression of communities of color. 

Divestment efforts may take time, but they provide a straightforward strategy to limiting the influence of the fossil fuel industry while resulting in a ripple effect in our social, political, and financial worlds.

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The Fossil Fuel Industry and Racial Injustice

Written by Phillip Brown and Nathaniel Williams

How is the Fossil Fuel industry related to racial injustice? Doesn’t pollution affect everyone equally?

The fossil fuel industry’s injustices have been highlighted recently by coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline and of the Standing Rock movement. Most notably, the Energy Transfer Partners’ private security used pepper spray and dogs to attack Indigenous Water Protectors who challenged the pipeline’s construction on their land.

This type of community displacement through violence embodies the most direct ways in which the fossil fuel industry perpetuates racial injustice, but the industry’s indirect ties to environmental racism extend far more broadly in scope.

 A 2014 report from the NAACP expresses a “growing understanding of the harmful impact of fossil fuel-based energy production on communities of color and low income communities,” and urges communities to “take a stand” for clean energy. According to this report, 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, a reality that is tied to increased birth defects, heart disease, asthma, lung disease, learning difficulties, and lower property values, all disproportionately affecting African American communities in the US. On the flip side, African Americans hold only 1.1% of energy-related jobs and gain only .01% of the revenue from energy-related industries. Black Americans are those most harmed by the fossil fuel industry, yet they have almost no access to the industry’s profit. While statistics expose the widespread devastation of environmental racism, the injustice remains deeply personal to those affected. 

Okay, we think you get it. The fossil fuel industry is bad news and we need to divest! But enough with the facts and on to the real-life stories! The video below from the EPA’s Environmental Justice series features Beverly White of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. From New Orleans, Louisiana, she speaks about the city’s intentional location in the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor and about the effects of oil and chemical processing on her family, on her community, and on the environment.

Often, we hear facts about the effects of climate change without relating them to actual bodies, lives, and families. We get desensitized to facts. Numbers get skewed. We lose our ability to make a connection with our role in the fight against climate change.

Listen to Beverly’s experience with cancer, asthma, poverty, and other diseases. Then discuss with us who we are fighting for and why we are fighting for divestment.



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What is Environmental Justice?

Written by Franchesca Araujo

Do you know where the waste collection and disposal site in the city of Boston is located? Here’s a hint: more than 83% of the residents in this neighborhood are people of color. Well, if you guessed Roxbury, you're correct.

Roxbury is not very different from many other neighborhoods in cities around the country. Landfills and incinerators are often placed in black and brown, and low income, neighborhoods. Black and brown communities are more than 20 times likely than white communities to be exposed to environmentally hazardous sites that harm their air, their water, and their quality of life. These kinds of inequalities are what the Environmental Justice (EJ) movement has formed around. The movement works to reduce the burden that pollution and climate change have on certain groups of people, a concept we call environmental racism. 

The harm that comes with rising seas and contaminated water systems isn’t evenly distributed. People who are already disadvantaged by race, wealth, and income are usually the most affected by environmental disasters. Environmental Justice reminds us to tie our efforts to movements that address racism and classism, as they work hand in hand with environmental issues. If you’ve never heard the term “Environmental Justice” before, or if you want to know more about it, watch this short, 3-minute Grist video linked here.



To learn more, watch this video of Peggy Shepard, a long time Environmental Justice activist, talking about environmental racism in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. "Some communities don't have the wealth or the complexion for protection, [and] those communities are called sacrifice zones,” she says, “which can be found both locally and globally. Harlem is a sacrifice is the dumping ground for a richer and whiter Manhattan.”



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