The climate got my attention this summer when I was house-sitting for my parents in Saint Paul. I took the dog out for a walk one afternoon and the sky was extremely hazy with smoke from Canadian wildfires hundreds of miles away. The smoke stayed with us for a couple of days and it affected the air quality.
Our town looked like a PlayStation 2 game—you could not see for a distance. This is a nice neighborhood, but it looked like Silent Hill. That’s not where I want to live. I hadn’t seen anything like this in the 10 years I had lived in the Twin Cities. This was the fallout from a climate event that happened in another country. I realized the fact that there is not a place you can go where nature and climate will not affect you.
Although the climate crisis will affect even the most privileged and cloistered communities, it will also disproportionately affect the most marginalized communities. Support for our campus institutions like the Native American Cultural Center (NACC) and Center for Diversity and Community (CDC) prove that the student body here at USD is interested in protecting and empowering those most vulnerable and marginalized among us.
There are also those who believe radically in the dream of “meritocracy.” It might be meaningful to point out to them that the level playing field that could incubate the ultimate stable of meritocrats has yet to be built. The climate crisis threatens our ability to reach the point where the best and hardest workers are proportionally rewarded.
Many of our institutions, like the courts, are effectively blind and deaf to our climate problems. We have to represent our (somewhat abstract) environmental interests in new ways. In his recent novel, “The Ministry For The Future,” Kim Stanley Robinson imagines an institution that concretely represents the rights of those yet to be born.
I am in favor of the Environmental Justice for All Act. This act expands and elaborates some existing laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act to account for things like discrimination based on disparate impacts and the consideration of cumulative impacts in permitting decisions. Along with other, more infrastructure-oriented climate efforts, we need to “awaken” courts to our environmental needs.
Only once these are recognized can we challenge the current state of affairs.