(Editor's note: Lucky us — we have a Hoosier correspondent in Paris for the climate change talks that are now underway. Lauren Kastner is on the Board of Directors of Earth Charter Indiana and is a national youth leader with the Sierra Student Coalition.)
Today in Paris, United States delegates representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ) and students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) held a demonstration at the high-profile climate talks. The action built on the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. that has called for police reform in response to systemic police brutality against black people.
In a press statement, Jacqui Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, drew the connection between climate change and race.
“In the context of climate change we see significant racial divisions in both the political landscape of who is making decisions and holding the reins of control over emissions, the efficiency and clean energy transition, and investments in climate finance,” said Patterson.
After a series of educational discussion forums throughout the week, approximately 100 delegates marched through the conference space chanting, “black lives matter,” “1.5 to stay alive,” and “we can’t breathe” to demonstrate the disproportionate impact that climate change has on black people. The action then became silent as the procession halted and members dropped to the ground staging a die-in for four minutes, representing the four hours that Michael Brown’s body lay in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 after a police officer killed him.
The action came at the end of the second week of international climate change negotiations that have not yet addressed key policy points of human rights, equity and enforcement for countries to deliver on their commitments to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The public has been calling for countries to agree to limiting global average temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. At the local level, air quality and pollution disproportionately burden black communities.
“We wear these face masks to show that we can’t breathe in the communities that we’re in. In the richest nation in the world our black people cannot breathe,” said Lauren Wiggins, a student at Tennessee State University and COP21 youth delegate.
One of the organizers of the demonstration was Denise Abdul-Rahman, Chair of the Indiana NAACP Environment and Climate Justice Program. While the action was in Paris, Abdul-Rahman hopes that the message of climate justice from the Black Lives Matter action makes it home to Indiana.
“I want people back home to know that COP21 is about connections, conversations and the sharing of knowledge to create a movement for change,” said Abdul-Rahman. “The world is demanding change and that change must incorporate asking for climate justice because people want healthier communities and the opportunities of green economics.”