"We thank all who have appeared," said Michele Roberts of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance during her inaugural address to the very first Presidential Environmental Justice Forum on Friday.
"And for those who did not, caught up with it. "
The Forum, a three-hour discussion on climate change and its disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities, was historic, necessary, eye-opening and, I have to say, disappointing.
This is not the event itself. Presenters Mustafa Ali, former chairman of the Environmental Protection Agency and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now !, posed powerful questions and highlighted how climate change affects every aspect of people's lives ̵
The event, organized by the National Negro Caucus of State Legislators and partnered with Gizmodo, included six presidential candidates. Currently, only two guests vote for more than 1 percent of the last national average: Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren. The rest of the contestants were extreme longshots with little hope of actually achieving the nomination (I recognized Rich Boy Tom Steyer on the morning of the event in my hotel lobby).
At least Steyer showed up during the event. During the forum, he noticed that on his first day at the White House, he would declare a state of emergency for climate change, which impressed me. He impressed me more than Warren, to be honest. Also the audience reacted louder on Steyer than on Warren. She spent much of her time on the stage in her comfort zone, talking about reshaping the country's financial system and dismantling corrupt companies. While relevant to the climate crisis, environmental justice is about people . It's about the air they breathe and the water they drink. It's about the damn shit they're dealing with today. And she did not pay much tribute to that.
That's unfortunate because, at least on the basis of their plans, Warren sounds pretty sophisticated when it comes to their understanding of environmental justice. It has published a series of climate-relevant plans that contain allusions to the inequalities and inequalities of the colored population – whether it be black peasants or indigenous peoples wanting pipelines from their ancestral lands . However, these plans did not seem to be consolation or confidence in talking about the subject.
Here Booker prevailed. He introduced a bill on environmental justice in the Senate and made it a priority in his plans for climate change . When he stood on stage, he looked like he was in his element. He talked about concentrated animal feeding operations and how they literally spray shit into people's farms. He spoke of masses and the unfairness of how the cannabis industry rewards entrepreneurs who have just entered the industry, but still punish those who used to. He dropped serious knowledge up there and named one place after another, which regularly deals with an environmental crisis. (Honestly, I could have fallen in love with him after Friday night, sorry, Rosario.)
The attendance of Booker and Warren at this event shows that they are serious about tackling the problems of the colored – but especially the blacks , Face in the hands of climate change. You see, it's no coincidence that the forum took place in a historic black college and university. It was intended to bring these candidates to a southern state whose history is rooted in slavery and whose current inhabitants are seriously endangered by climate change in the form of heat waves and hurricanes for those who have not.
All eyes are on Iowa, but South Carolina is one of the next states to vote prematurely. Candidates would be stupid enough to ignore the black voters of the state who hold the key to winning South Carolina. Senator Bernie Sanders lost this important primary state in 2016 and this time does not do everything in his power to avoid this. His absence from the event was particularly striking, as he is one of the candidates to address the climate crisis with the seriousness and urgency it deserves – and he seeks to incorporate justice and racism into his environmental agenda.
In fact, this agenda is likely why he did not attend the event. He is hosting a climate crisis summit in Iowa on Saturday with well-known names such as the author Naomi Klein and the representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. His office has not returned a request for comment, but I am disappointed that he did not prioritize this event. It has shown how the climate crisis first and worst affects communities of black people and low-income people – organized by leaders from these communities.
Another notable absence was Vice President Joe Biden. He likes to throw the word "environmental justice" around as if it means something to him, but he is Biden. Who actually takes him seriously when it comes to the climate? Notwithstanding that he is absent as a leader in the forum, there is much to say. His Climate Plan is ambitious and offers promising foundations for resolving the climate crisis, but Biden still likes taking money from fossil fuel executives. True climate warriors do not consider him as president – they can not afford it. His campaign has not returned a request for comment.
I'm amazed that Sanders and Biden skipped the event. Solving the climate crisis requires attention for our most vulnerable communities. This event was the first to spend time and resources on it. And not enough candidates thought it was important enough to show themselves. As for those who have come through, only one (Booker) has really shown me that they understand this problem. And in the age of climate change, that's just not enough.