Commentary
By Gerald L. Durley 10-09-2018

America is at one of its most critical points in its illustrious history. Global warming and environmental injustice have evolved into a corrosive, divisive concern where lines of mistrust are deeply drawn in the minds of those who hold differing opinions. There appears to be entrenched emotional camps of dueling understanding as to whether climate change is a natural pattern of weather evolution or has been created by the human footprint.

As a civil rights activist from the civil rights movement of the ‘60s, I continue to believe that everyone has constitutional rights. Thousands of Americans are being denied their civil and human rights because insensitive or politically manipulated legislators are creating policies that are destroying the environment. When profit, rather than the well-being of human and environmental life, determine the survival of the planet, it is a civil rights issue.

Fifty-eight years later, it has become blatantly clear that we need to implement some of the organizational strategies of the civil rights movement to advance the climate change movement. It is my hope that this response will ensure that every person has access to toxin-free air and uncontaminated water.

Science confirms that humans are the primary perpetrators of climate change. Scientists from all over the world are now increasingly certain that the drastic weather changes, which we are currently experiencing, are the result of human involvement. It is now an accepted fact that the greenhouse effect is a result of excess carbon dioxide trapping solar radiation from the atmosphere, causing the earth’s temperature to rise and rapidly challenging the existence of all living things. Acidity in the oceans is increasing at an unprecedented rate and rising water temperatures are causing bleaching to once beautiful corals.

There are numerous reports, studies, and surveys that detail the negative impact global climate change poses, specifically to communities of color, low-income neighborhoods, and rural areas.

Fossil fuel, automobile emissions, and methane gas, which is the byproduct of fracking, have created a critical tipping point that will affect all life —human, animal, and plant.

Floods, hurricanes, droughts, wild fires, extreme heat waves, earthquakes, asthma, loss of life and property are the glaring aftermath of a changing climate.

I realize that businesses are structured in such a way that they must profit in order to remain viable. The moral questions that must be asked of them are: At whose expense? And at what cost to the sustainability of the planet and its inhabitants?

The earth is experiencing some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded. We are witnessing conflicts over water, not oil. The bee population is being decimated. Pollination of essential food crops has diminished, posing a threat to global food supply.

Climate change has become a runaway train.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools.” Climate change is a civil rights issue which business, political, educational, and faith leaders must join forces to stop.

I am more confident now than ever before that we must, can, and will be victorious in this moral civil rights struggle for the environment and for all life.

A few meaningful action steps and strategies that can reduce the impact of climate change:

1. Organize and vote against any and all legislation or policies that are not conducive to the sustainability of the environment. Marches and rallies are important and necessary but challenging and changing policies is essential. Collaboration and cooperation, with a single coordinated purpose, will produce positive results.

2. Be personally prepared to commit to what kept those of us believing in the ‘60s. We believed that sacrifice and risks were fundamental behaviors that would guarantee us our constitutional rights. Similarly, each of us must be personally willing to disavow financial support of any company, product, organization, politician, or group that does not advocate for the climate change movement to progress.

3. Each one, teach one! Educate others on why and how to change lifestyles. Become more conscious of energy efficiency. Energy conservation and preservation are required behavior patterns for the sustainability of the environment.

4. Actively engage with non-profit organizations. (Sojourners, Interfaith Power & Light, Captain Planet Foundation, Sierra Club, Green the Church, Greenpeace, GreenFaith, Waterkeeper Alliance, ecoAmerica, The Nature Conservancy, and numerous others.) These groups organize, strategize, and mobilize activities that support the sustainability of the earth and its inhabitants.

We must believe and act as if recovery is possible. Now is the time.

The Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Durley combines the disciplines of faith and science with the lessons learned as a civil/human rights advocate from the 1960s.

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"Climate Change Is a Civil Rights Issue: Here are 4 Ways to Respond"
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