Is climate change really an issue that we need to be focusing on?

  • The global climate is always changing. Natural patterns of heating and cooling have driven the earth into periods of extreme heat and glaciation for millennia.
  • The difference now is the rate at which climate change is occurring. Climate change is happening at an unprecedented rate. What’s the difference between now and historical climate change? We are.
  • The world’s leading climate scientists say we must reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 if we want to prevent irreversible damage. (United Nations)
  • As climate change continues at an exponential rate, it will begin to impact every community in one way or another.

How do fossil fuels contribute to climate change?

  • Fossil fuels are currently an integral part to many social sectors including energy production and transportation, the two largest contributors of greenhouse gases in the United States. (EPA Sources of Greenhouse Gases)
  • The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat, creating an exponential warming of earth’s surface. (EPA Greenhouse Gas Overview)

What is environmental justice?

  • Environmental justice is defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies” (EPA on Environmental Justice)
  • This means that people of all ethnic and socio-economic groups should be ensured equitable access to a world free of detrimental pollution and extensively degraded habitats

How is the fossil fuel industry perpetuating environmental justice issues?

  • The fossil fuel industry has a history of polluting lower socio-economic communities, particularly Black and Indigenous communities.
  • Pollution created by the burning of fossil fuels are centralized in communities that often lack the means to prevent their exploitation by large corporations.

What are some of the problems with the mainstream environmental movement as it exists now?

  • Many environmental groups do not see social justice issues associated with environmental degradation as their problem to solve. (Grist)
  • Only 15% of leaders in environmental non-governmental organizations identify as People of Color, despite the burdens of pollution tied to fossil fuels being largely placed on Communities of Color. (Grist)
  • Mainstream environmentalism often ignores how environmental harms and benefits are distributed along poverty and race lines, failing to acknowledge the ever-increasing wealth gap in the United States. (The Atlantic)

How do fossil fuels contribute to habitat destruction?

  • We are currently in a biodiversity crisis that is being fueled by human activities, mainly the exploitation of fossil fuels. (The ConversationSee a more detailed breakdown of impacts from oil, gas, and coal here.
  • Areas surrounding oil and gas infrastructure on-land and off-shore have lower species richness than areas lacking fossil fuel infrastructure. (Harfoot et al, Conservation Letters)
  • The Kingston Coal Ash Spill in 2008 is one example of fossil fuel related habitat destruction in UTK’s backyard. This was the largest coal ash spill in US history and resulted in 5.4 million cubic yards of hazardous sludge to spill into surrounding neighborhoods. (National Geographic)