Rev. Leo Woodberry: This Is an All-Hands-on-Deck Moment to Fight Climate Emergency

It’s time for a new chapter, focused on implementing the solutions we already know will work—many of which have been developed in the very communities that have been most impacted by climate change.

The Rev. Leo Woodberry is pastor of Kingdom Living Temple and executive director of the nonprofit New Alpha Community Development Corp. in Florence, South Carolina

Cross-posted from Common Dreams


At this month’s annual United Nations conference on climate change in Egypt, delegates from around the globe will encounter something new: a Climate Justice Pavilion in the official “Blue Zone,” where diplomats and policymakers gather. Finally, at this 27th Conference of the Parties—aka COP 27—environmental justice advocates will be in the zone where it happens, centering justice, focusing on equity, and highlighting the communities hit worst and first by the effects of climate change and our dirty-energy economy.

At the COP, we U.S. climate justice activists will join our voices with Indigenous communities, people from across the Global South, and climate justice groups from around the world. We may be far-flung, but we face parallel problems. In the forests of the American South, we are fighting the wood-pellet industry; our counterparts in Indonesia are fighting the palm oil industry. Oil companies that pollute the air and contaminate the water in the U.S. are also busy polluting other countries. And just as U.S. communities find ourselves battling corporations based in faraway states, communities throughout the Global South find themselves battling corporations based in faraway countries.   

Our solutions, too, are similar: community-controlled solar energy independent of the grid. Forest protection efforts that curb climate change while blunting flooding and erosion. Agricultural practices that produce healthy food without depleting the land or furthering climate change. 

The movement for justice for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color is not an American thing; it’s a global thing. We are all reaching out to learn from each other, support each other, and advocate for a more just and sustainable world, and we are relentless.  

At a U.N. COP, you don’t run into a lot of climate deniers anymore, but climate delayers are still common. They argue for pumping the brakes on climate action. They don’t want to commit to the ambitious goals and timetables our climate crisis requires. Their real goal is winning the next election or hitting the next quarter’s profit projections, instead of building a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world for the long term and for every person. 

Climate justice voices are united in knowing this foot-dragging has to stop. It’s time for a new chapter, focused on implementing the solutions we already know will work—many of which have been developed in the very communities that have been most impacted by climate change. I call it a new era of IRON will—of implementation, resolve, opportunity, and new approaches. 

Here’s what I mean:  

  • Implementation: We cannot wait until utilities and oil companies decide it is sufficiently profitable to put solutions in place. We cannot wait until politicians are sure it is advantageous to act. Climate justice communities need to keep implementing our own solutions in our own communities, even as we keep pushing for broader policies that protect people and the planet. Solutions must be scaled up and rapidly replicated around the world, starting now. 

  • Resolve: We must keep marching relentlessly toward a just, clean-energy future while protecting communities from the effects of climate change—no matter what threatens to distract us, divide us, or turn us around. 

  • Opportunity: Climate justice communities must leverage opportunities inherent in climate action. In the U.S., for example, funding initiatives such as Justice40 and the Inflation Reduction Act might not be perfect, but they can still be leveraged to open doors for skills training, job creation and community wealth-building; address needs such as clean air, healthy food, and safe water; and build resilience in the face of climate-related threats such as increased flooding, heat waves, and wildfires. 

  • New approaches: From young people in Liberia and Sierra Leone making their livings by charging people’s smart phones with solar panels, to diverse U.S. neighborhoods developing community-controlled solar energy systems, communities are creating sustainable solutions that break free from outdated business models that don’t serve us well.  

I’ve been working on environmental justice since the movement was born in the 1990s. The cause has taken me to Appalachia, New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, and to African villages; and to the White House, the United Nations, and annual COPs held in Poland and Spain. Closer to home in South Carolina, we’ve won affordable weatherization and solar-power access for low-income families; installed solar-powered hydropanels that make clean, healthy water from sunlight and air; and assembled and deployed climate disaster relief kits equipped with dozens of items, from boats and solar-powered electric chargers to electric bikes, tents, and solar-powered grills.

I’ve been at this long enough to know that in order to address climate change, everybody must be involved. It must be as simple as a family swapping out lightbulbs or weatherizing a home, and as complex as global negotiations held at official U.N. COPs. Whether we’re focusing on modest initiatives or ambitious paradigm shifts, and whether we’re working in a small town or on the international stage, we must always center justice.

In this all-hands-on-deck moment, it is essential to recognize and advance the dignity of all those hands. Only with climate justice can climate action succeed. 

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