by Peter Diamond
Until several months ago, I was disillusioned by local fossil fuel divestment efforts. My cynicism, combined with the separation I used to imagine between environmental justice and social justice, led me to think that the Earth’s climate was screwed, so we were better off making this planet a more socially equitable place than fighting the losing battle of saving the climate. It took me a while to realize that climate justice and social justice are interconnected, and that supporting fossil fuel divestment movements upholds Newton’s values because a stable climate will help lead us to a just future, and because the climate justice movement has inspired interracial and intercultural solidarity.
The fossil fuel industry is known for its highly polluting practices. The extraction of fossil fuels can be detrimental to the terrain of the surrounding area, and petrochemical facilities release an astonishing number of toxic chemicals into the air. Spills from oil wells have terminated undersea ecosystems. The fossil fuel industry’s dangerous environmental impact is undeniable, but I understand if it seems unrelated to national, or even local, inequality.
Climate change’s impact is widespread but unequal. For example, Newton is not affected nearly as much as some of its lower-income neighbors—areas that happen to have higher populations of people of color. In a publication by 350, a national climate justice organization, the group’s strategic partnership coordinator Deirdre Smith writes that, nationwide, the fossil fuel industry’s petrochemical facilities are most likely to be located in areas with black majorities, meaning that the health and ecosystems of people of color are more at risk than those of predominantly white communities.
Even though Newton and Massachusetts may seem far from climate crisis, Massachusetts has often been a state that has spearheaded progressive change, and it therefore has the obligation to divest from the fossil fuel industry—and a forward-thinking city with engaged students such as Newton must spearhead the movement. Luckily, clubs at this school like Divest Newton and local organizations like the Better Future Project are dedicated to acknowledging that change, and anyone can get involved.
And the way that climate justice will unite a divided world is due not only to the ugly parts of climate change, but also the solidarity that the climate movement has inspired. One recent big climate justice protests is the People’s Climate March in New York City, during which a large number of protesters marched from Columbus Circle to the U.N. Building on Sunday, Sept. 21 to encourage the U.N.’s diplomats to make radical change pertaining to climate issues that they discussed that day. It was neither angry nor violent; rather, over 1,000 grassroot groups are encouraging a nonviolent and celebratory campaign.
By organizing local high schoolers to attend the march, I have met groups that have often been in conflict with each other—antiracist groups, Zionist groups, churches, LGBTQA groups—that are all uniting over the same cause, a testament to the way that climate justice can bring people together as much as climate crises can tear people apart.
And here in Newton, a city that often preaches values of equality and progressivism, we have the obligation to support movements like Divest Newton and People’s Climate that use climate justice to bring people together and create a future of equality. At this school, we may not be affected by climate crises as much as people in New Mexico or Louisiana, but we can have a tremendous effect on ending that inequality and, eventually, lowering carbons, pollution, and disasters as a whole.