This Earth Day, dozens of activists gathered at the state Capitol to rally for concrete change when it comes to climate, and a central call was for environmental justice.
Demonstrators say people of color in underserved communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change.
“Black lives matter! I can’t breathe!” Tenaya Taylor, Nonprofit Accountability Group (NAG) executive director, shouted out at the rally.
They are words that have long reverberated across the nation, but on Earth Day, they took a different context.
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“I can’t breathe, Ned Lamont! We need clean air, Ned Lamont!” Taylor said.
People at the state Capitol are asking for environmental justice.
Taylor voiced concerns that people in urban areas, underserved communities and people of color bear the brunt of climate change.
“Hartford is being affected by pollution,” Taylor told the crowd. “We’re burning trash from the suburbs that isn’t being burned in the suburbs, so I have to breathe garbage coming from other places.”
Taylor said it is easy to witness in Hartford. The push for environmental equity centers on factors like air quality.
“You can see the concentrations of air pollutants are just in Black and Brown, and rural, poor communities,” Taylor said. “So we see it in that way, with the trash being burned. A lot of traffic and cars, the highways that run through us.”
There are health impacts.
“Asthma rates for children and adults in the cities, and environmental illness, is very high,” Taylor said.
In urban areas, Taylor said Black and Brown communities suffer most from high heating and electricity costs, and endure the most frequent power shut-offs. Taylor also said a lack of affordable housing exacerbates the problem.
“If I wanted to live somewhere else, it's not affordable,” Taylor said.
According to a Princeton University study, Black Americans are 75% more likely than white people to live in “fence line communities, areas near commercial facilities that produce traffic or emissions."
The study states 6.7 million Black Americans live in the 91 U.S. counties with oil refiners. One million Black Americans face a “cancer risk above the EPA’s level of concern due to unclean area.
More than 13% of Black children suffer from asthma, compared to 7% of white children, per the study.
All these reasons are prompting NAG to hold a Community Climate Event Saturday at Keney Park’s Pond House, aiming to put advocates alongside policy makers who can effect change.
Environmental justice is a goal shared by the organizers of the Earth Day rally at the capitol.
“From the permitting of infrastructure to which communities are or have the hardest time recovering from natural disasters,” Sena Wazer, Sunrise Connecticut director, said. “In Hartford, there are many different toxic waste facilities. And it's a community that is not white, not majority white, it's majority Black and Brown. It's really important that we're taking action now and prioritizing those communities.”
Demonstrators are hoping change will bloom from the state Capitol.
“The climate crisis is now!” Taylor said.
At Friday’s rally, demonstrators also demanded that Gov. Ned Lamont direct the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to stop permitting all new fossil fuel infrastructure.
“The scale of the crisis that we face, this is the solution that makes the most sense. And it's absurd that the governor calling our state a climate leader hasn't taken this on yet,” Matthew Plourd, Sunrise Connecticut deputy co-director, said.
“It would do a host of things,” Plourd said. “It would make sure that the folks towards our coasts of Connecticut aren't submerged within several decades. It would make sure that we have a future that we can live with. It would protect our wildlife. It would create millions of good paying jobs.”
Some lawmakers attended the rally, but Wazer said they need more legislators behind their issue.
NBC Connecticut reached out to the governor’s office and DEEP for comment, but did not get a response.