May Day 2014
I’d like to start with a story, a tragedy really, that links some of the issues we have walked through together so far today. Last September, a young African American girl named Laporshia Massey died of an asthma attack. That was the immediate cause of her death. The less immediate cause was that she was in a school that had no school nurse due to budget cutbacks. She might not have died if not for those cutbacks. But she also would not have died if she had not had asthma, which she might not have had if she hadn’t been exposed to the environmental toxins that are a part of life in inner city Philadelphia, where one out of five children have asthma as opposed to one out of eleven nationally. You could as easily say Laporshia died of environmental racism as asthma.
We are here now in front of Philadelphia Energy Solutions because this company, the successor to Sunoco, is refining oil from the North Dakota Bakken shale fields. Although there have been refineries and their ill effects in this city for over a century, this oil is even worse. Trains carrying this toxic, explosive shale oil in inadequate tankers over poorly maintained lines are now traveling through Philadelphia regularly. One derailed in January on a crumbling bridge over the Schuylkill, narrowly avoiding a catastrophe. A similar oil tanker exploded in Canada last year, killing dozens in one small town. Shale oil is being mined, along with tar sands oil, even though it is difficult and expensive to extract and highly damaging to the environment and surrounding communities because the oil companies have run out of cheaper and easier places to get oil. It’s a race to the bottom now, for the last drops, and they will spare nothing in their pursuit of that last bit of profit. And as the last of that fossil fuel burns, the temperature of the atmosphere rises to levels that make it increasingly difficult for people and other living things to exist. The first effects are being and will be felt by those most disenfranchised by our society and least responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases.
It has always been disempowered and marginalized communities that have borne the brunt of climate injustice, whether it is the people of Appalachia whose streams are poisoned by mountain top removal and chemical leaks, or indigenous peoples whose land and water are destroyed by tar sands, pipelines, or other oil exploitation, or urban communities of color who are forced to live next to coal-powered electric plants, refineries, and petcoke dumps. Those for whom life has always been hard will only find it harder as resources grow scarcer.
We have made several stops so far today, and have heard about several issues. We can’t solve any of these problems individually. Neither can we solve any of the problems of climate change and climate justice by appealing to the corporations who created the problems in the first place, just by doing what they were created to do, making a profit. We must build a movement that puts people and the environment first, that finds common ground among all our issues, that fights for system change, not climate change. Another world is indeed possible, a just, ecologically sustainable world, but we can’t build it on a dead planet. And we must all build it together!
Cindy Bertrand Holub
Rising Tide Philly