ORANGEBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA—For the first time ever, presidential candidates will take the main stage Friday night to talk all things environmental justice. To make the event even more historic, “Moving Vulnerable Communities From Surviving to Thriving” will take place at South Carolina State University, the only public Historically Black College and University in the state.
Gizmodo and The Root, formal media partners of the event along with Democracy Now! and Grist, are here in South Carolina to see it in all its glory. The National Black Caucus of State Legislators is helping organize the forum, along with some two dozen local and national organizations.
Six presidential candidates will be attending the forum, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. Other candidates—like good ol’ Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders—who claim to care about environmental justice won’t be in attendance, however.
This event comes as climate change becomes front and center for the 2020 White House race. Former presidential candidate and Washington state Governor Jay Inslee ran his entire campaign on climate and has left a legacy behind for those who remain. A number of candidates have released formal plans on how to tackle the climate and environmental crises—and addressing the needs of our country’s most vulnerable communities must be at the heart of these plans. TV news networks have even held forums and town halls on climate change for the first time this election cycle.
This forum is meant to explore candidates’ literacy on the topic of environmental justice, which seeks equal access to a clean and healthy environment despite a person’s race, class, or immigration status. The U.S. suffers from a severe case of environmental injustice, so candidates will be quizzed on how they plan to solve this mess, especially as the climate crisis further threatens the well-being of communities of color and low-income families.
Indeed, climate is central to black social justice. According to Green America, black people make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, but 68 percent live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant compared to just 56 percent of white people. The water crisis in predominantly black Flint, Michigan, is well-documented, but other cities with large black populations endure disparities with environmental issues. Black kids in St. Louis., Missouri, are 10 times more likely to visit the emergency room for asthma than white kids and 2.4 times more likely to have lead found in their blood.
Patrisse Cullors and Nyeusi Nguvu wrote in the Guardian that the Black Lives Matter Movement is as much about dismantling environmental racism as it is ending police brutality.
Globally, the continent of Africa is the most vulnerable to climate change. Global heating, for example, is expected to cause massive flooding that will disrupt farming—events that will end in crop droughts during the growing season. More than 70 percent of people on the continent depend on land to sustain their livelihoods, according to the Environment and Energy Study Institute.
It cannot be lost on anyone that this environmental justice forum is taking place at an HBCU where students will enter the professional world with their expertise in finance, economics, STEM, and other disciplines with, hopefully, climate in mind.
Joining Warren and Booker are businessman Tom Steyer, author Marianne Williamson, and former Representatives John Delaney and Joe Sestak. All candidates were invited. The event will be from 6 to 9 p.m. ET and will be live-streamed via Democracy Now! here. We’ll also be live-tweeting the event, so be sure to follow our respective Twitter handles: @yessfun and @Russian_Starr.