When we think of climate change, we most often think of the framing that has dominated mainstream environmental discourse: polar bears, sea mammals snagged in plastic trash and parts per million. By focusing instead on the way climate change affects communities and their economic and physical health, is embedded in social justice, and is intertwined with wasteful, fossil-fuel-based transportation, energy, agricultural and industrial facilities, we can look at the connections between the abuse of the environment and oppression of groups of people with the least power. The same mindset/perspective that allows for exploitation of Mother Earth, allows for the exploitation of marginalized people.
Current immigration policy forces vulnerable communities to keep silent about corporate pollution for fear of having their lives and families torn apart. Migrant farmworkers and their families are regularly exposed to harmful pesticides in both the air and water. Chronic exposure leads to shorter life spans and a greater likelihood of death from asthma, along with increased risks of cancer, birth defects, and neurological damage. Migrant agricultural workers in Washington state who, due to cuts to child-care programs, have to take their children to the fields with them. The children are then exposed to high levels of pesticides, but their parents, because of their shaky immigration status, have little recourse to push for safer farming practices or organize for better child-care programs.
On top of this, undocumented immigrants are less likely to be insured or to have adequate access to health care. This means that they stand a high chance of getting sick from pollution and being unable to afford treatment. Because these people are an exploited labor force, they are underpaid and are not provided with any benefits. This is one of the reasons our food prices are rather inexpensive here in the United States.
Immigrants and other people of color in the US are more likely to live in areas that do not meet the federal government’s safe air quality standards. Immigration status contributes to a nearly doubled likelihood of living in close proximity to a toxic release facility.
Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to the environmental changes caused by global warming. As the climate changes, weather emergencies, like severe hurricanes and droughts, will increase in frequency and severity. Industries dependent on natural resources will fare the worst, which won’t bode well for the immigrants that make up 40 percent of the farming, fishing, and forestry industries in the US. Additionally, low-income families are less likely to be financially prepared for a hit to their industry or to their homes. As this kind of devastation increases around the world, migration will intensify.
Immigrants by and large contribute less to climate change than most Americans, but are among those most impacted by it. Latino immigrants in particular tend to be more concerned about climate change than other Americans and more likely to believe we have a moral responsibility to care for the environment. Immigrants typically pollute less than other Americans. Wealth is the best predictor of fossil fuel consumption – and the subsequent carbon footprint – as consumption of goods, fossil fuel products, and products made with high carbon emissions rise, as income rises. Furthermore, cities with large immigrant populations have some of the lowest per capita emission rates.
We will have to employ many different approaches as we work to build an inclusive environmental movement. If green groups teamed with immigrant-justice organizations, such strategic partnerships could have long-term benefits for both camps. Environmental organizations are a powerful force for grass-tops lobbying, fundraising, and strategic political thinking. Immigration groups and communities of color have a deep understanding of movement building, multicultural and multilingual organizing, shifting power, and large-scale activism. The power of each of these movements alone is substantial; combined, we could be an unstoppable force for change in our country.
We must educate and organize current members of the environmental movement to understand the connections between racial equity and core environmental issues. What’s the impact of pesticide use on migrant workers who are such a key part of our food system? What are the racial-equity effects of mass-transit decisions? How can we better communicate and engage a multicultural, multilingual base on environmental issues?
Congress has floundered on both climate change policies and immigration reform. And the situation at our southern boarders, holding minor children in detention centers to punish their parents for escaping untenable conditions in their own countries, is not only unsustainable, the conditions are inhumane. All children should be nurtured and cherished and no child should suffer such conditions.
I have watched FOX commentators complain about some imaginary persecution of Christians and the ‘war’ on Merry Christmas. Maybe if they started acting like Christians instead of giving lip service to it, we would not be the country that incarcerates migrant children in inhumane conditions.
At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who
is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become
as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 18:1–10)