Beyond the Climate Crisis: The Journey to Environmental Justice

In August 2021, New Deal for Youth (ND4Y) Changemakers participated in a panel titled “Beyond the Climate Crisis: The Journey to Environmental Justice” for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Emerging Leaders’ Summit. During the conversation, Changemakers Aniya Butler, Kaliko Kalahiki, and Marissa Howdershelt highlighted radical and holistic solutions that value our humanity and collective well-being over corporate greed.  

ND4Y Changemakers believe the climate crisis is fueled by the foundational systems of racism, colonialism, and capitalism. Conversely, we believe that to counter these systems, environmental justice requires a society built upon the pillars of sustainability, respect, unity, and equity. To achieve environmental justice, we must dismantle the systems of power that are preventing all people from thriving. 

Earlier this year, ND4Y Changemakers outlined five environmental justice policy demands in a New Deal for Youth, including: Indigenous self-determination; new decision-making structures that shift power to Indigenous and other marginalized communities; a regenerative not an extractive economy; the creation of quality green jobs that prioritize the needs of Black and Brown communities; and access to healing-centered physical and mental health care that responds to the health impacts of climate change.   

During the panel, Changemakers highlighted four key recommendations for combatting the climate crisis that center environmental justice:  

  • Create new decision-making structures that shift power to Indigenous and other marginalized communities. We must recognize Indigenous communities as the original stewards of this land and center Indigenous systems of knowledge. Environmental justice requires Indigenous self-determination.  
  • Hold the systems that created the climate crisis accountable, including by providing reparations for environmental racism, abolishing racial capitalism, and valuing people over corporate profits. Environmental justice requires accountability on both the macro and micro levels – we must hold ourselves accountable and change our own behaviors while still recognizing the larger systems at play. While the climate crisis is global, the effects are locally experienced. Local communities should be empowered to address their local crises in community-oriented and wellness-centered ways.  
  • Divest from systems that are harming our communities and invest in the systems that allow them to thrive. Environmental justice recognizes that an individual’s environment is not just impacted by the physical climate, but by everything around them -- from the schools they go to, to the food they eat, to the infrastructure around them. Environmental justice looks like defunding the police, abolishing ICE, closing prisons, and reallocating those resources to climate-resilient practices that center us, our needs, and our humanity. Going outside, drinking clean water, and breathing clean air should not be luxuries – our policies should focus on ensuring access to these basic human rights for all people, rather than on criminalizing our communities.  
  • Change our relationship to the land. For too long, we have viewed the land as a resource to be mined, focused on extracting and consuming as much as possible. We must move away from this extractive relationship to a familial one. When we recognize the land as family, we understand our responsibility to care for her and she cares for us. It becomes a reciprocal relationship rooted in respect. Changing our relationship to the land will fundamentally change how we live and what we value.   

While building political will to address the crisis is not easy, the solutions are simple, radical, and holistic. We must implement policies that center wellness, humanity, and the land, and prioritize our collective well-being over the profit of a few. These recommendations go beyond addressing the physical climate to addressing all aspects of our environment. To be truly transformational, all policies focused on wellness and justice should acknowledge the climate crisis and center environmental justice.   

 

Watch the full panel below.