This student run blog reflects writing by students from their own perspectives on topics related to sustainability. It does not reflect the position of the University.
Makena Rush will receive her BA in Social Ecology, BFA in Dance Performance, and Minor in Global Sustainability in the spring of 2021. She plans to pursue a career in marine conservation, sustainability, and artistic activism.
Green New Deal Analysis – the Interconnectedness of Climate and Environmental Justice
By Makena Rush
Published May 7, 2021
The Green New Deal (GND) proposals are one of the principal globally-recognized actions addressing climate change and social justice, that call upon public policies to achieve each step. It references Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was designed to achieve social, economic, and environmental reform in response to the Great Depression. This plan eventually became popular in history for its driving force of modern innovation, including renewable energy projects, upgrading of infrastructure, economic and social justice, as well as resource efficiency (French et al, 2013).
In more recent years (particularly gaining more traction in 2018), proposals for an updated “Green New Deal” have grown more prevalent on a global scale. There are many promising aspects of its newest resolutions in the U.S., in the fields of conservation and Indigneous leadership, which seem to be technologically and infrastructurally feasible from the outside. However, some have voiced concerns arguing that its degree of ambition, and precarious political appeal are completely different stories. It is important to engage in more conversations that evaluate major governmental policy shifts such as this one, especially with its profound impacts on the health of the rest of the world– in both human and ecological realms. When selecting the most salient and sustainable approaches to the Green New Deal, it is imperative that environmental justice must be placed at the center and forefront of the framework, after a long history of being overlooked and dismissed. Ultimately, all actions must function interdependently in Biden’s Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice. Climate justice cannot be taken on or talked about without also integrating a focus on social and environmental justice at the same time.
It is important to recognize that these seemingly holistic GND resolutions that the Biden administration proposes are a result of years of Indigenous and grassroots activism, involving a wide range of communities uniting and raising their voices in the name of having safe lands, waters, and living conditions. The tireless lawsuits, people-led protesting, and creations of organizations like the Promise to Protect Coalition are rooted in the principles of social and environmental justice (Ludwig, 2021). The truth behind this ongoing structural conflict is that, despite these unbudging difficulties, the only way to thrust the strongest blow to the system is through engaging in constant social pressure through these grassroots movements of environmental justice- rooted in the fundamental need of equal human rights.
Resolutions Addressing Conservation and Environmental Justice
In the sections of Agriculture, Conservation, and Environmental Justice, the Biden-Harris Administration is launching a new process for stakeholder engagement- which encompasses agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, Tribes, territories, and local officials into conversations within the climate justice movement (Doshi, 2021). Instead of the usual top-down, disconnected land-use restrictions, Biden is moving past the denialism of environmental injustice- crucially focusing on Indigenous leadership in managing lands, waters, and people.
The Administration also is seeking to place particular protection on farmers and ranchers (generationally, mainly composed of people of color), in the process of transitioning out of fossil fuels, as well as forwarding sustainable agriculture endeavors. Within the context of the climate justice agenda, Biden will review roadblocks to new agriculture innovations, and invest in more Earth-friendly farming programs, including conservation efforts that concentrate on restoring soils as healthy carbon sinks. At the same time, the program aims to generate new sources of revenues, and empower farmers to utilize this technology to maximize renewable energy, water, and production efficiency, create newly-funded jobs, equitable opportunities, and safer living conditions for agricultural workers (Plan for Climate Change and Environmental Justice: Joe Biden, 2021).
President Biden and Representative Haaland are also committing to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and focus on the “30 by 30” conservation framework, in order to address conservation issues. This ambitious goal would rely on Biden’s executive power to designate and protect new monuments, and ban industries such as drilling, mining, and timber harvesting in public lands. It would also include establishing more national parks and programs to fortify renewable development and restoration efforts.
In privately owned-lands, where ⅔ of endangered species exist globally, ensuring that the 30 by 30 plan works in an interconnected way with the emphasis on environmental justice would be integral- by allowing native land owners to lead in these efforts of conservation of biodiversity protection, as well as forwarding sustainable agriculture innovation. This aspect has been particularly emphasized by Representative Haaland in the resolution, which reveals that congressional allies seem to understand that all conservation goals only live with the support and sovereignty of tribal nations and environmental justice (Doshi, 2021). The strengths of these two conservation frameworks are their characteristics of being holistic and committed to preserving ecological and social health. However, weaknesses can be seen in their opportunities for dismissal by both government and civil society, or risk of distorting the original vision of the goals when other short term profit-driven, disconnected motivations are sought after instead, while hiding behind the lofty language of environmental justice (Doshi, 2021).
Challenges and Weaknesses
In terms of these steps, some have defined the GND not as a plan, but rather, “a statement of goals”, characterized by their broad and very ambitious nature. Although many are in favor of these goals, obstacles lie in securing a stable base of political and financial support- in the wake of how fighting for environmental justice has proven to be difficult to fight for in courts, legislation, and due to the lack of education of the public on this issue. Even after bringing marginalized voices to the table in the processes of climate change planning, reversing the impacts of environmental injustice itself is an enormous feat to take on in and of itself. On a global scale, it is known that there are massive legal fees involved in fighting against environmental racism and injustice (Amanda, 2017). The aspect of political challenge could interact with and exacerbate this lack of financial support as well. For example, claimants may be required to cover the fees of their opponents in court cases- which can be an extremely difficult hurdle to overcome within lower-income minority groups, and even the organizations that support them (Jeffries, 2011). In a review of 210 judicial review cases between 2005 and 2009, over half did not proceed due to costs (Cost Barriers to Environmental Justice, 2011).
In other words, there is a significant challenge in rallying more people to get behind these endeavors of allowing the Indigenous to lead and become successful in the light they deserve- especially when transparency with the public in the processes of policy making like this has been a huge issue in the messy past of Western colonialism, and conservationists’ distortion of the Indigenous in the Eurocentric Green movement. Thus, it will be Biden’s responsibility to follow through and be explicit to citizens, specifically, about not only milestones being achieved, but also setbacks being introduced as well. These setbacks could include mishaps in adopting sovereignty-affirming principles that are not accessible and specific to each tribe, or not adequately supporting Indigenous networks with enough funding and flexibility within their management and protection practices. The vital need for this kind of cooperation to be deepened and institutionalized is a huge feat- and must go far beyond “last hour consultations or tokenistic sign-offs” (Doshi, 2021). Using Indigenous populations around the world as a “poster child”, or narrative to appeal to western nations for reasons to protect conservation is profoundly harmful (Egan, 2021). It strips them of their complex identities, needs, and situations – ultimately perpetuating their image of being primitive, helpless, and “lesser” in the eyes of the powerful Global North.
In the process of enabling Indigenous leadership, we must recognize the degree of which indigenous communities have been severely impacted by environmental hazards, especially ones that are perpetuated and intensified due to the behaviors and demands of the Global North, and its capitalist, commodified, and market industry-driven motivations. It is poignantly known that America’s colonization and imperialism was fueled by uprooting Indigenous Native Americans and people of color from their lands- often through extreme violence, and genocide (Sonnenblume, 2016). It is time to truthfully face the fallout from these actions that continue in a deepened way in today’s world, and the new Presidential Administration seems to finally acknowledge and place a focus on what communities of color, and the Indigenous, have been striving for hundreds of years.
Origins, Depth, and Importance
It is often overlooked how the contributions to agriculture have been massively shaped and supported by people of color- even at its founding, with America’s wealth being built on the backs of Black slaves. Currently, immigrants, Indigenous groups, and the Latinx communities (most commonly) are the people that currently produce a majority of the foods that make it onto our plates (National Young Farmers Coalition, 2017). The heartbreaking reality is that these groups are also the ones who are being disproportionately impacted by exposure to environmental hazards- predominantly the experiencing the worst physical, infrastructural, and economic consequences of droughts and flooding (affecting livelihoods, crop production, and health) (Devine, 2017).
Due to systemic environmental racism, urban planning has been deliberately and strategically structured to place Black, indigenous, and people of color communities at the forefront of dangerous, polluted areas of environment, through redlining and discriminatory, outdated zoning laws- whose consequences are still bleeding through into today’s inequitable housing and welfare crises (Zuñiga, Lecture, 2021). This is also exacerbated by patterns of gentrification, and vicious and exploitative cycles of eviction in low income neighborhoods of color, which leads to their continual mass displacement (Desmond, 2016). When these rural families, forced into a state of chronic poverty, spend struggling years living near coal plants, toxic waste dumping, and other unregulated industrial pollution sites that pollute freely, their immune systems become compromised, and more pre-existing health vulnerabilities emerge, which are passed down as predispositional diseases worsened with each generation through mothers. In the African American community, those with respiratory and cardiac disorders, such as asthma, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), or hypertension, are more at risk of contracting and suffering the deepest effects of illnesses and viruses such as COVID-19, for their life expectancy is significantly lowered. Rates of stress, depression, and other mental illnesses are also much higher in African American communities, which yields more severe and untreated cases (Northridge and Shepard, 1997). These are perpetuated due to our broken health system in the US- specifically “thriving” off of how people of color are often denied healthcare on the basis of their socioeconomic status, their location in healthcare deserts, (remote distances from hospitals, supermarkets, or medical clinics) and sometimes purely from racially-discriminatory bias (Noonan, 2016).
Strengths, Benefits, and Success Stories
Audiences must learn the proven benefits, strengths, and success stories behind Indigenous leadership, in order to fully politically support the ideals of the Indigenous being able to lead and become successful. According to Sahir Doshi, author of The Biden Administration’s Conservation Plan Must Prioritize Indigenous Leadership, and a research assistant at CAP, there is a wealth of research on the universal scientific benefits of Indigenous-led conservation work, including greater amounts of biodiversity (more carbon sequestration, reduced deforestation, and mitigation), more efficient methods of managing pollution hazards, more resilience against natural disasters, and slower mass extinction rates on lands managed by Indigenous communities, as compared to areas that are under federal control, as indicated in the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services 2019 Report (Doshi, 2021). In terms of social benefits, across both Indigenous leadership in both agriculture and conservation, positive socio-economic outcomes are seen across the board, due to how people are given the opportunity to participate equally in the designing, implementation of technology and strategies- resulting in increased life expectancy, boosted rates of employment (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2015). With tribal sovereignty existing at the heart of these efforts and programs, it is revealed that it cannot thrive if it Indigenous people are marginalized and cast aside by stakeholders, leaving them to deal with financial, operational, infrastructural difficulties on their own.
Returning to Biden’s prioritization of environmental, social, and economic justice in conjunction with striving for climate justice, these goals are important because we all have moral obligations to undo these patterns of exploitation, displacement, and deepening of inequities and injustices. The US government has failed to sustainably manage public lands in a way that is trustworthy and consistent with treaties and trusts with tribal nations- which encompasses its requirements to protect ancestral homelands, sacred ceremonial sites, and complex landscapes of spiritual identity and subsistence for each tribe. (National Congress of American Indians, 2018). This lack of responsibility on behalf of the US government in turn aggravates the global state of climate change, and the ascending trajectories of environmental justice in the US, and has been a sorely missed opportunity to engage respectfully with Indigenous peoples, who are the original and best stewards of their natural resources, conservation practices, and recognition of biodiversity. (Doshi, 2021).
The GND proposes an adequate vision in the right direction for embodying environmental justice more than ever before, especially in conversations surrounding conservation and fossil fuel reduction. However, will this vision be carried through in the holistic way that it seems to propose? There must be accountability, transparency, and active participation from all stakeholders to consistently follow through with their proposed plans and strategies- rather than becoming complacent under the image that seems very progressive and forward thinking within each of these four GND resolutions. I assess that these resolutions each have immense potential for lasting success in our world. I would argue that they can only be feasible and within our reach, as long as they are functioning in an interdependent way- uniting the environmental justice and climate change justice movements together in a powerful way. Specific actions that the Administration could pursue in these plans should be prioritizing tribal homeland restoration, exploring creative new ideas to recognize the success of Indigenous-led conservation, creating a system of co-production of knowledge and research, enact genuine Tribal co-management of all public and private lands, providing Tribes with the necessary funding needed to fulfill their vision, and integrate meticulous consultation in congruence with Tribal sovereignty (Doshi, 2021). I believe that these actions should first stem from foundations of awakening and awareness about the interconnectedness that exists innately and inevitably within our planet, across ecosystems and peoples of all cultures, backgrounds, and regions. Above all, we must honor equal inclusion and communication in conversations surrounding the complexity of the climate crisis, and a vital priority given to those who are deliberately excluded- despite how they have historically experienced its worst impacts.
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