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New and recent books about climate and environmental justice » Yale Climate Connections

In observance of Black History Month, Yale Climate Connections is following up its January bookshelf on climate advocacy with a selection of new titles on climate and environmental justice.  

Together, these books make the case that climate action can only win widespread and durable support if it is just. Inequities of the past and the present must be addressed by policies and programs offered for a sustainable future. 

This month’s list begins with the nonprofit Green 2.0’s annual report on representation in environmental nongovernmental organizations and foundations and then turns to two deeply personal books by Black environmental activists. 

The unequal struggle for breath is the focus of the next three titles, with a study of air pollution and youth activism in Baltimore and two studies of the profoundly unequal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Long-term inequalities in access to farmland and the working conditions of industrial agriculture are addressed in the next set of titles, with philosopher Olúfhemi O. Táíwò reframing the debate over reparations for our climate-changed future. 

Rounding out the list are three collections of essays that examine issues of environmental justice through multidisciplinary reflections and illustrative case studies. 

As always, the descriptions of the titles are adapted from copy provided by the organizations or publishers that released them. When two dates of publication are indicated, the second is for the release of the paperback edition. 

2022 NGO and Foundation Transparency Report Card (Green 2.0 2022, 179 pages, free download available here

For the sixth consecutive year, Green 2.0 presents the NGO and Foundation Transparency Report Card. The 2022 report card reflects data collected from NGOs on the number of people of color (POC) on their full-time staffs, boards, senior staffs, and heads of organizations, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices. Green 2.0 also returned to the pre-2021 practice of collecting demographic data from environmental foundations to gauge the internal progress of staff compositions.  The annual Green 2.0 reports encourage organizations to be transparent and accountable, while using data to inform their metrics, goals, and strategic plans. 

Educator & Activist: My Life & Times in Pursuit of Environmental Justice by Bunyan Bryant (Rivertowns Books 2022, 342 pages, $39.95) 

Educator and Activist is Bunyan Bryant’s story-a vivid account of his journey as an educator and activist in the movements for civil rights, students’ rights, women’s rights, and a healthy environment for all. Bryant was one of two faculty members chosen to launch the University of Michigan’s pioneering Environmental Advocacy Program. He and his students helped poor communities across America fight for clean air, clean water, and unpolluted land. In 1990, Bryant co-organized the first Michigan Conference on Race and the Incidence of Environmental Hazards. In these battles for environmental justice, Brant also mentored a generation of passionate young advocates. Educator and Activist captures a life dedicated to making change happen. 

Before the Streetlights Come On: Black America’s Urgent Call for Climate Solutions by Heather McTeer Toney (Broadleaf Books 2023, 198 pages, $24.99) 

In Before the Streetlights Come On, climate activist Heather McTeer Toney insists that those most affected by climate change are best suited to lead the movement for climate justice. McTeer Toney brings her background in politics, community advocacy, and leadership in environmental justice to this revolutionary exploration of why and how Black Americans are uniquely qualified to lead national and global conversations around systems of racial disparity and solutions to the climate crisis. As our country delves deeper into solutions for systemic racism and past injustices, she argues, the environmental movement must shift direction and leadership toward those most affected and most affecting change: Black communities.

Fighting to Breathe: Race, Toxicity and the Rise of Youth Activism in Baltimore by Nicole Fabricant (University of California Press 2022, 266 pages, $29.95 paperback)

Industrial toxic emissions on the South Baltimore Peninsula are among the highest in the nation. Because of the concentration of factories and other chemical industries in their neighborhoods, residents face elevated rates of lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses in addition to heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular disease, all of which can lead to premature death. Fighting to Breathe follows a dynamic and creative group of high school students who decided to fight back against the race- and class-based health disparities and inequality in their city. As a Baltimore resident and activist-scholar, Nicole Fabricant documents how these young organizers came to envision, design, and create a more just and sustainable Baltimore.

The Pandemic Divide: How the Pandemic Increased Inequality in America, edited by Gwendolyn L. Wright et al (Duke University Press 2022, 328 pages, $27.95 paperback)

As COVID-19 made inroads in the United States in spring 2020, a common refrain rose above the din: “We’re all in this together.” However, the full picture was far more complicated — and far less equitable. Black and Latinx populations suffered illnesses, outbreaks, and deaths at much higher rates than the general populace. The contributors to The Pandemic Divide explain how these and other racial disparities came to the forefront in 2020. They explore COVID-19’s impact on multiple arenas of daily life — including wealth, health, housing, employment, and education — while highlighting what steps could have been taken to mitigate the full force of the pandemic. 

Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want by Ruha Benjamin (Princeton University Press 2022, 392 pages, $29.95) 

Long before the pandemic, Ruha Benjamin was doing groundbreaking research on race, technology, and justice, focusing on big, structural changes. But the twin plagues of COVID-19 and anti-Black police violence inspired her to rethink the importance of small, individual actions. Part memoir, part manifesto, Viral Justice is a sweeping and deeply personal exploration of how we can transform society through the choices we make every day. Born of a stubborn hopefulness, Viral Justice offers a passionate but practical vision of how small changes can add up to large ones, transforming our relationships and communities and helping us build a more just and joyful world.

Black Earth Wisdom: Soulful Conversations with Black Environmentalists, edited by Leah Penniman (Harper Collins/Amistad 2023, 352 pages, $26.99)

Author of Farming While Black, Leah Penniman reminds us that ecological humility is an intrinsic part of Black cultural heritage. While racial capitalism has attempted to sever our connection to the sacred earth for 400 years, Black people have long seen the land and water as family and understood the intrinsic value of nature. This thought-provoking anthology brings together today’s most respected and influential Black environmentalists to address the essential connection between nature and our survival. Those whose skin is the color of soil are reviving their ancestral and ancient practice of listening to the earth for guidance. The fight for racial and environmental justice demands that people put our planet first and defer to nature as our ultimate teacher.

Evolution of a Movement: Four Decades of California Environmental Justice Activism by Tracy E Perkins (University of California Press 2022, 302 pages, $29.95)

Drawing on case studies and 125 interviews with activists from Sacramento to the California-Mexico border, Tracy E. Perkins explores the successes and failures of the environmental justice movement in California. She shows why some activists have moved away from the disruptive “outsider” political tactics common in the movement’s early days and embraced traditional political channels of policy advocacy, electoral politics, and working from within the state’s political system to enact change. At a time when environmental justice scholars and activists face pressing questions about the best route for effecting meaningful change, this book provides insight into the strengths and limitations of social movement institutionalization. 

Reconsidering Reparations by Olúfhemi O. Táíwò (Oxford University Press 2022, 280 pages, $33.99) 

Most theorizing about reparations treats it as a social justice project — either rooted in reconciliatory justice focused on making amends in the present; or it focuses on the past, emphasizing restitution for historical wrongs. Olúfemi O. Táíwò argues that neither approach is optimal, and advances a different case for reparations — one rooted in a hopeful future that tackles the issue of climate change head on, with distributive justice at its core. This view, which he calls the “constructive” view of reparations, argues that reparations should be seen as a future-oriented project engaged in building a better social order; and that the costs of building a more equitable world should be distributed more to those who have inherited the moral liabilities of past injustices.

Environmental Justice and Resiliency in an Age of Uncertainty, edited by Celeste Murphy-Greene (Routledge 2022, 150 pages, $48.95 paperback) 

In 11 short chapters, this book examines issues of environmental justice with the aim of creating a resilient society. Starting with a history of the environmental justice movement, the book then focuses on current environmental issues, analyzing how these issues impact low-income and minority communities. Topics covered include smart cities and environmental justice, climate change and health equity, the Flint Water Crisis, coastal resilience, emergency management, energy justice, procurement and contract management, public works, and the impact of COVID-19. Each chapter provides a unique perspective on the issues covered, offering practical strategies to create a more resilient society that can be applied by practitioners in the field.

Reframing Climate and Environmental Justice, edited by Lars Otto Naess and Amber Huff (Institute of Development Studies Bulletin (53.4) 2022, 138 pages, free download available here)

This new issue of the IDS Bulletin features seven articles exploring the ‘blind spots’ in dominant mainstream approaches to climate and environmental justice. It argues that these approaches share a tendency to place growth, not ecology, nor climate, and certainly not justice, at the heart of the international policy agenda. The collection also offers ways to address those ‘blind spots’ in order to move toward more just and inclusive pathways for climate and environmental policy processes. True solutions may require that powerful interests are challenged and that dominant forms of ‘expertise’ are questioned. Efforts to apply one-size-fits-all solutionism must be rejected. 

Reparative Environmental Justice in a World of Wounds by Ben Almassi (Lexington Books 2020/2022, 186 pages, $39.95 paperback) 

Reparative Environmental Justice in a World of Wounds discusses the possibilities and practices of reparative environmental justice. It builds on theories of justice in political philosophy, feminist ethics, Indigenous studies, and criminal justice as extended to non-ideal environmental ethics. How can reparative environmental justice provide a useful perspective on ecological restoration, human-animal entanglements, climate change, environmental racism, and traditional ecological knowledge? How can it promote just practices and policies while enabling effective opposition to business as usual? And how does reparative justice look different when we go beyond narrowly construed human conflicts to relational repair with ecosystems, other animals, and future generations?

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