Expo West: ‘Climate justice is racial justice’

For Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., founder of the nonprofit activism accelerator Hip Hop Caucus, the phrase “I can’t breathe” has multiple meanings.

Of course, the phrase conjures up images of George Floyd and Eric Garner, Black men who uttered those words before being killed by police officers, and of the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

But, for Yearwood, “I can’t breathe” is also a rallying cry for climate justice — the same groups who are most likely to be victims of police violence are also most likely to live in polluted areas heavily affected by climate change. 

“We must connect the dots,” he said during a keynote address Monday at Expo West, a virtual trade show for the natural and organic products industry. 

According to Yearwood, 68% of Black Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, which increases the likelihood of developing respiratory diseases.

The intersection of racial and climate justice crystallized for Yearwood in 2005.

As a Louisiana native, Hurricane Katrina “changed my life,” he said. 

As global warming led to worsening hurricane seasons and authorities failed to take property-flooding precautions, “we realized that climate justice is racial justice and racial justice is climate justice,” Yearwood said.

“It left a stain on our country,” he said of Hurricane Katrina. “… Poor Black people were left behind by the richest country in the world.”

In some ways, society has taken strides since 2005. Yearwood praised the multicultural coalition that marched for justice after Floyd’s death last year. 

“It literally was all of us,” he said. “Black, brown, white, red came together to say ‘Enough is enough.’”

But in many respects, climate change is even more of a problem than it was 16 years ago. 

He called on business and government leaders to work with communities in addressing both climate and racial-justice issues.

“Together, we can do amazing things, and we have to do it,” he said.

Climate Coalition co-founder Lara Dickinson said the natural and organics industry must make strides to “break climate change out of the silo.” In other words, the issue can’t just be one that’s addressed on its own. 

“Our impact ripples to agriculture, to our communities, to our consumers and to the future of [the] big [consumer packaged goods industry,]” she said.

Natural and organic product makers are taking the lead on issues such as regenerative agriculture and reduced-waste packaging, Dickinson said.

Danone NA head of sustainable development Deanna Bratter said companies like hers are on the forefront of employee-centric equity initiatives such as gender-neutral parental leave and a living wage for all members of the supply chain. 

“When it comes to challenging the status quo and driving forward imagination and innovation, that’s what our community does,” she said.

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For Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., founder of the nonprofit activism accelerator Hip Hop Caucus, the phrase “I can’t breathe” has multiple meanings.

Of course, the phrase conjures up images of George Floyd and Eric Garner, Black men who uttered those words before being killed by police officers, and of the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

But, for Yearwood, “I can’t breathe” is also a rallying cry for climate justice — the same groups who are most likely to be victims of police violence are also most likely to live in polluted areas heavily affected by climate change. 

“We must connect the dots,” he said during a keynote address Monday at Expo West, a virtual trade show for the natural and organic products industry. 

According to Yearwood, 68% of Black Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, which increases the likelihood of developing respiratory diseases.

The intersection of racial and climate justice crystallized for Yearwood in 2005.

As a Louisiana native, Hurricane Katrina “changed my life,” he said. 

As global warming led to worsening hurricane seasons and authorities failed to take property-flooding precautions, “we realized that climate justice is racial justice and racial justice is climate justice,” Yearwood said.

“It left a stain on our country,” he said of Hurricane Katrina. “… Poor Black people were left behind by the richest country in the world.”

In some ways, society has taken strides since 2005. Yearwood praised the multicultural coalition that marched for justice after Floyd’s death last year. 

“It literally was all of us,” he said. “Black, brown,…