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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