Episode 88 - The Climate Crisis

Transcript, Web links and Credits below.


For most of my life, I’ve fought primarily against issues like police brutality and white supremacy and mass incarceration. And I still do. And there is a tendency for some people to think that global warming and environmentalism and climate change are white issues for privileged white people. Today I need to unpack and explain where that notion comes from and then I want to help us understand why the climate crisis needs to be high on all of our lists of what we care about and fight for.

This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!


You know the saying, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees? What that means is that sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture when all you can see are the details right in front of your face.

On this podcast, we speak a lot about police brutality, mass incarceration, white supremacy, bigotry, voting rights, civil rights, and all of the issues that fall under those banners. And I want to make a point that I think needs to be said and needs to be understood.

Just like it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, it’s hard — damn near impossible sometimes — for people and communities that are being ravaged by police brutality to look 10, 20, or 30 years into the future about what our environment, what this planet will look like, if we don’t change emissions standards, if we don’t find ways to have clean energy. It’s hard to care about the carbon footprint of corporations when a police officer has their foot on your neck? Do you understand what I’m saying?

When hate crimes are exploding across the country, it can be difficult to focus on the rising temperature of the ocean. When your mother is in jail because of a speeding ticket she can’t afford to pay, and now she languishes there because of a cash bail she can’t afford to pay, and you are afraid that if you tell your teachers that your mother is in jail basically because you are poor and they will send you to a group home — it’s hard to care about the climate crisis. When you are worried that ICE may knock on your door at any given moment, and separate and deport your family, it can be very difficult to find the mental and emotional space to care about much else.

And so some of what’s happened — all the way back to the 1960s while Black and Brown communities were literally fighting just to survive — an environmental movement began emerging that was super white and super privileged and often super aloof. And from the 1960s all the way until just the past few years, the primary voices, the primary organizations and funders talking about climate change and global warming have been privileged white folk.

Not because people and communities of color don’t care, but because our movements have become deeply segregated, and the systems and structures fighting for the environment have been almost exclusively white for generations.

I have one thing I want to unpack today and one super simple action step ok? Let me break it down.

(Break it down music.)

This tendency to think that fighting for the environment is a white thing, runs super deep. And again, it’s mainly been fueled by just how white and how privileged and how disconnected the environmental movement itself has been for nearly 60 years. It’s also fueled by the fact that it can be hard for any of us to fight for the thing that we don’t see when we are so burdened by problems that are right in front of our faces.

But I need us to understand something, the climate crisis that we are facing right now, is going to hit people of color, and communities and nations of color first, and hit them the hardest, with droughts, with floods, and with natural disasters like what we saw in the Bahamas. The hurricane there has basically destroyed the entire nation. Entire communities have been leveled. Their airports and their crucial businesses and public systems have been destroyed. And what I saw just moments ago is that nobody can even get in there to help. It’s exactly what we saw in Puerto Rico where thousands of people died. And to this day, now years later, people still don’t have clean water and electricity. We saw this with Hurricane Harvey in Houston and we saw with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. When those levees broke, guess who lived in the lowest lying communities? Guess whose neighborhoods were destroyed and whose survived. You can draw the lines right down racial and economic lines.

All over the world, environmental injustice hits poor communities and communities of color the hardest. Waste is regularly dumped in or near these communities. Dangerous power plants and factories are often built in or near communities where people don’t have lobbyists on speed dial to block such things.

And I am saying all of this, because I want all of us to understand, that every single aspect of the climate crisis is going to hit communities of color and poor communities hard. I understand it’s difficult for us to focus on an impending crisis when we have so many other burdens, but we need to make some real shifts to begin understanding that this crisis belongs to all of us. We all need to be at the table. We all need to make sure that we have input to the plans and solutions that are being built. And this movement, and this cause needs to be integrated on every level.

Which takes me to a very simple action step I have for us today.

(Action Steps Music)

There is a youth movement fighting the climate crisis and I want you to follow them all over social media. The organization is called the Sunrise Movement.

Just go to Google and search: Sunrise Movement, Twitter; Sunrise Movement, Instagram; Sunrise Movement, Facebook. Or go directly to those platforms and type Sunrise Movement in their search boxes, and please follow them, ok? I know the leaders and founders and they are brilliant. They are diverse. And they speak of this issue in the intersectional way it needs to be addressed.


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Produced by Willis Polk II

Additional production by Christian “Idrys” Shannon

Additional Instrumentation by Christian “Idrys” Shannon, Lance "Lance Fury" Powlis & Markeith Black

Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library

Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush & Jason Coffey

Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg