The Right Rev. William Barber has revived Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. He has reminded us that the triple evils of an age are racism, militarism, and poverty. But he has advanced the struggle for social and economic justice by including ecological devastation and the intersection between religion and morality.
Dr. King indicated that one of the evils could not exist without another. Racism, militarism, and poverty were intertwined. Moving it forward, capitalism, militarism, and racism have been responsible for much of the ecological devastation we have experienced.
Rev. William Barber has made it plain. His namesake son (William Barber III) has been involved in the environmental movement and took his dad to Alaska, where the melting of the glaciers was obvious.
“We could see where they were five years ago, and where they are today. We are losing our glaciers,” the young Dr. Barber told his dad. “We might see seismic changes in as few as 20 years.
Melting glaciers are in Alaska. Melting glaciers are in Antarctica. Government reports were delayed because of the government shutdown, but a final report from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration says that 2018 was one of the four hottest years on record for the globe. The heat makes a difference. It accelerates storms and hurricanes. It places low-lying areas at risk. And trivially (but some of us live this), the fluctuations between cold and heat affect the quality of roads.
Many Republicans are oblivious to the challenges of climate change. That man who occupies the People’s House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue spent 82 minutes bloviating without mentioning climate change or global warming (or the 400th year since enslaved people crossed these wretched borders), but even as he ignored a pressing issue, there were official acknowledgments of the ways that global warming has shifted our climate realities. In the name of party loyalty, some Republicans are willing to imperil our planet.
Democrats aren’t much better. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been focused on climate change and has assembled a congressional panel to deal with the matter. The New Green Deal says that the Speaker’s focus is insufficient, and first-year legislator Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has promoted a ‘Green New Deal’ that addresses comprehensive ways to deal with social, economic, and environmental justice.
Leader Pelosi and Rep. Ocasia-Cortez both care about the ways our planet is melting, although they approach legislative fixes in different ways. Pelosi would take a deep dive in environmental issues. Ocasia-Cortez would connect environmental devastation to wages, education, and quality of life. The two dynamos are on the same page, but their approach is different. Pelosi is the more skilled leader and negotiator and will find her position enhanced if she can use the Ocasia-Cortez agenda to advance her own.
The bottom line, though, is that our planet is melting. We hear a ‘State of Disunion’ address that bloviated on for 82 minutes and mentioned climate change not once. In the days after the pathetic campaign speech masquerading as a State of the Union address, we saw Democrats lift the challenges of climate change, and Republicans ignore those challenges. And our world melts on.
Our world is melting. Glaciers are disappearing. Oceans are rising. Lowlands (mostly populated by low income and Black people) are disappearing. And before Democrats took power in this term, few other than Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the New Green Deal have been able to address matters of climate change and, in the words of the New Poor People’s Campaign, “ecological devastation.”
How does ecological devastation shape issues of social and economic justice? When folks choose to disrespect the environment, they mainly want to disrespect those who are most vulnerable: people who are at the periphery of the economy, those who have garbage dumps and toxic waste placed near their homes. There was a focus on environmental justice with the Environmental Protection Agency before this administration decided that there was no need to protect the environment. And there has been a stunning silence among civil rights organizations who don’t’ think that the melting of our plant is essential.
Our planet is melting. A few legislators care. What about the rest of us? Do we understand that, in the words of Rev. William Barber, that without a healthy planet, we have no platform to fight for social and economic justice, for our civil rights?
(Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy is available via for booking, wholesale inquiries or for more info visit .)