A Message on Climate Justice in the Time of Black Lives Matter

June 4, 2020

To the Community of Yale Blue Green:  

I am writing to you today beyond my customary capacity as the chair of Yale Blue Green. Over the past week, we have all witnessed Americans taking to the streets to protest police brutality, further fueled by grief over the disruption and tragic loss of life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the anxiety of mass unemployment and economic turmoil, and the frustration with the corruption of democratic values.

As a Black woman and daughter of Caribbean immigrants, I am weary of seeing my brothers like George Floyd and sisters like Breonna Taylor murdered at the hands of police officers who are supposed to protect and serve the public. It is not a matter of personal choice or growing conscience to stand in solidarity with people who look like me or could be me. It is a painful, recurring nightmare of the systematic devaluing of Black lives. 

We are in a fight for the soul of America as much as we are in the fight for the survival of our planet.

We environmentalists pride ourselves on leading with the facts, facing the unnerving truths, and persevering to build a better world against all odds. The uncomfortable truth is, ours is a country and economy that was built on the enslavement of Black people, the genocide of Indigenous people, and the exploitation of the poor and working class to perpetuate the false narrative of white supremacy. The callous disposition towards human life as a disposable instrument for economic and political gain motivated the same entitlement to the fruits of nature that yielded clearcut forests, overfished oceans, extracted and burned fossil fuels, and built landfills to bury trash that will outlive seven generations. 

There is no environmental justice without racial justice. There is no racial justice without economic inclusion.

Fifty years from the anniversary of the first Earth Day, and fifty-six years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, it feels as if we have come full circle and are still fighting the same battles for justice and sounding the same alarms about the dire need for change. Study after study proves how communities of color and low-income communities disproportionately bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change and rollbacks of environmental regulations. We know that climate change worsens global economic inequality. A bright spot in the midst of the pandemic is the growing push to rebuild the post-pandemic economy as a clean energy economy with more green jobs and an investment in energy innovation. We have a rare opportunity to catalyze a just transition toward a sustainable economy and environment in our lifetimes.

I know this remains a bitter pill for many people to swallow. There is comfort in indifference and disassociation to the suffering of others. Attempting to listen with empathy and to act courageously to change our society with the best tools at our disposal involves putting aside the mental gymnastics of “not me, not here, not now”.

But if we can be baffled by the actions of climate deniers when the worsening impacts of climate change are plain as day, how could we deny the clear and present signs of racial injustice that have long preceded the climate crisis?
Here comes a long, hot summer – in more ways than one. 

We have grown accustomed to reading that every summer is the new hottest summer on record. We are not surprised by new reports describing the acceleration of mass extinction of hundreds of species on our planet. We are angered to see the news that yet another unarmed Black person has been killed by the police. We are bracing for a possible second wave of COVID-19 infections that have already disproportionately ravaged Black and Brown communities. We do not have to grow accustomed to the vicious cycle of emergency and extinction and shouldering the burden of the trauma they bring. 

How will you help to fight the good fight?

What is the new narrative that we want to tell ourselves about who we really are as a society and what we value? Everyone has a part to play, whether on the frontlines, in the boardroom, the classroom, at the ballot box, or through courageous conversations with people of different identities and perspectives. If you are looking for opportunities for meaningful action, here are just a few resources to get you started.

Support environmental justice organizations:

Climate Justice Alliance

Deep South Center for Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice Foundation

Hip Hop Caucus’ Green the Block

Indigenous Environmental Network
 Sierra Club Environmental Justice Program

The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations, by Dr. Dorceta Taylor, ‘85 MFS, ‘88 MA, ‘91 PhD


Call or write your elected officials to support the Green New Deal.

Yale Blue Green will continue to strive to be a source for community, connection, clarity, and collective action for Yalies committed to the sustainability of life on our planet.

To this end, please join YBG for a virtual town hall discussion on environmental justice on Thursday, June 11th at 12-1pm ET. Register here.

We will continue to experiment with how to create and hold space for honest dialogue and engagements that advance lifelong learning and take a critical lens to the interconnectedness of environmental and social justice during this watershed moment in our history. 


Lauren E. Graham, ‘13 MEM
Chair, Yale Blue Green