Where climate change and racial justice intersect 

Colette Pichon Battle Colette Pichon Battle

Black people need to be more aware of climate change and how it shapes our lives, contends  Colette Pichon Battle, the founder and co-executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. 

In her position, Battle develops programming focused on equitable disaster recovery, global migration, community economic development, climate justice and energy democracy. She was in town last week for the Westminster Town Hall series on climate change science and solutions.

She spoke to the MSR a few hours before her April 27 appearance at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis. “I feel like Black folks have got to wake up to this because we are going to be the first ones hit and sacrificed,” said Battle, “and always we’re the first ones to perish in this thing that we are not paying any attention to.”

Battle is a generational native of Bayou Liberty, Louisiana, located in the Gulf Coast, which makes up Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama and Florida. 

She has worked with local communities, elected officials, and others in the post-Katrina and post-Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster recovery and actively advocates for climate change mitigation and adaptation with racial justice and equity at its core.  

“I think we’re dealing with an industry that has the most power in the world, especially in our government, especially in the South,” continued Battle. “And they were really trying to avoid liability and accountability at all costs, and make record profits. The truth is, this has been a political move from the beginning.”

Her 30-minute speech and Q&A afterward last week focused on how citizens can respond to climate disasters and ensure migration in ways that can actually make positive change for communities of color. 

“I pray every day that the almost 2,000 lives that were lost in Katrina are not lost in vain,” she told the audience. “I pray every day that people will understand that this climate crisis is not something of the future, but it is something that is here. We have been working on this for a while.”

Battle further explained, “We are in that moment now around the climate crisis [where] religious institutions, government and people are what we need in order to address this crisis. It is not going to be won by a simple piece of policy. 

“It’s not going to be won by protests in the streets alone. It’s only going to be won when regular people like you and me stand up and start fighting, not just for the trees and the birds and the soil of this planet, but for the people who exist in that broader ecosystem.”

She continued, “The biggest thing we suffer from especially in this country is comfort and privilege. We live in such comfort and such privilege that we do not have to turn our eyes to see what is happening to the rest of the world. We do not have to think about all of the communities that are suffering so we can be comfortable.  

“We have to tell the truth that it is American consumption that is driving a global imbalance.  One American consumes as much energy as 13 people in China, as much energy as 127 people in Bangladesh, as much as 307 people in Tanzania. 

“We are 5% of the population and we’re taking almost 30% of its resources,” Battle said. She reminded the audience, “Our consumption and our privilege and our oppressive tactics globally” have adversely affected communities of color both nationally and worldwide.”

“These are the front lines of the climate crisis. These are often people who have contributed the least to the problem that are experiencing right now the worst impacts, and we haven’t even hit what we know we will hit in just a few years to come,” she said.

Among her suggestions for change was that citizenry must take back and exert its power, using the ballot box as a first step. “We must be accountable, and we must have folks representing us who understand accountability,” she said.  

“Power is being used in a way right now that I think is really hurting us. We must talk about power in the fact that real power rests in the community. Real power is in our hands. Our plan to challenge power requires all of us to vote, requires all of us to get other people out to vote. 

“We must all join this fight because this is not a fight for voting rights. This is a fight for the vision of a democracy that we have not yet reached. This is about changing our society,” Battle said as she received a rousing standing ovation from the Westminster audience. 

“We can make solutions for a better and more sustainable future. This is not about shifting from gas to renewables… This climate crisis is part of a broader system that connects to criminal justice, connects to education, and connects to health care.”

As we wrapped up our MSR interview, Battle reiterated the importance of Black people realizing that the climate crisis, now in a pandemic world, is not a White people’s problem. “I want Black folks to know that climate is about Black lives,” she said.  

“That the people who were lost in Katrina was us. That the biggest thing that we have to fear is what is coming to our inner cities—not just police, but heat and how that is going to harm so many of us who live in public housing or concrete jungles.  

“I hope that folks will take the time to learn about how climate intersects with justice, how climate justice intersects with racial justice, and how we all need to actually be a part of the solution.”

Colette Pichon Battle’s speech can be viewed at www.westminsterforum.org.