Justice on Earth

Published by FirstUUAdmin on

This week we celebrate Earth Day. During normal times we celebrate Earth Days with tree plantings and large gatherings. This year we will mark this day in relative isolation, but we can still reflect on this day together. 

The UUA Common Read for 2018 was a collection of essays titled Justice on Earth: People of Faith Working at the Intersections of Race, Class, and the Environment. The book is built around the thesis that we cannot conceptualize justice work in silos but instead must look at the way that environmental justice IS racial justice and class justice work. We are, in this moment, living out the way that intersectional justice is the only clear lens through which we can conceptualize our communal struggle. 

The UUSC (Unitarian Universalist Service Committee) posted a link on Facebook this week to an opinion piece in the New York Times that explored why the black community in the United States has been so radically disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. 

In the article the author, Jamelle Bouie, states the following: 

Today’s disparities of health flow directly from yesterday’s disparities of wealth and opportunity. That African-Americans are overrepresented in service-sector jobs reflects a history of racially segmented labor markets that kept them at the bottom of the economic ladder; that they are less likely to own their own homes reflects a history of stark housing discrimination, state-sanctioned and state-sponsored. And if black Americans are more likely to suffer the comorbidities that make Covid-19 more deadly, it’s because those ailments are tied to the segregation and concentrated poverty that still mark their communities.

What’s important to understand is that this racialized inequality isn’t a mistake — it isn’t a flaw in the system. It reflects something in the character of American capitalism itself, a deep logic that produces the same outcomes, again and again.

– Jamelle Bouie

Those of us who attended the UUA General Assembly in Kansas City, in 2018 had the opportunity to participate in a “Segregation Tour,” that taught us about the decades of deliberate housing discrimination in Kansas City.  In fact, Kansas City pioneered strategies for redlining communities to prevent minorities from living in certain areas; and shared these strategies for discrimination with other communities around the United States.  

It was shocking to learn, for example, that the post WWII loan programs for home mortgages were explicitly not offered to African Americans and other minorities.  To this day, the impacts of these policies remain evident in the lives of African Americans around the country. 

These existing structures of class injustice and racial injustice have combined to create a conduit for this virus to travel. This is injustice stacked upon injustice. 

Covid-19 is an example of a virus transmission called zoonosis. This means that a non-human animal (a chimp, a bird, a bat, a pig) has an illness and that illness has the ability to HOP from a non-human animal to a human. What we must understand is that fighting to limit zoonosis emergence is environmental justice.

And the way that we can most clearly avoid zoonosis is by acting in environmentally just and sustainable ways. 

The UN Environment Programme posted on Twitter last week a poster that explores the way that future zoonosis can be minimized. 

This poster upholds five sources of zoonosis, which would most likely impact and endanger those who are racial minorities and those who struggle from economic oppression. 

The five sources are as follows: 

  • Deforestation and other land changes. When you remove natural habitats you force animals closer to humans. When you protect habitats you give animals the space they need to live safely. 
  • Antimicrobial resistance (antibiotic resistance) in infectious diseases. When you use our medical resources carefully you protect future generations (or a future version of yourself) from antibiotic resistant bugs.
  • Illegal and poorly regulated wildlife trade. When you transport animals you risk transporting diseases. When you protect animals from illegal trade you not only protect them, you also protect humanity. 
  • Intensified agriculture and livestock production. When animals are bred and kept in close confines you increase the chance that they will spread disease and that the diseases that occur will be antibiotic resistant. If you consume less meat or more ethically produced meat you protect the animals and the consumers. 
  • Climate change. With climate change comes unpredictability and uncertainty as well as changing habitats. Reducing the impacts of climate changes means reducing the likelihood of zoonosis. 

On this Earth Day Unitarian Universalists are called to reflect more deeply on our 7th Principle, respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Since its adoption in 1985, this principle has called us to lean into our shared experience. It is in this moment of pandemic that our interdependence and interconnection becomes most clear.

Our health is determined by the healthcare we give to our most vulnerable citizens. We are as protected as the handwashing and social isolation resources we give our most downtrodden brethren. How we treat the most endangered animals and the most cloistered livestock is how we treat ourselves, our interdependent web.

May we all have access to healthcare.

May we all have safe and clean places to rest and clean ourselves. 

May we all have the blessing of healthy coexistence, across this Earth. 

written by AJ Fox