Civil Rights and the Climate Crisis

All of our fates are intertwined.

Circle of Hands Resting on Sand

If he were alive today, I can imagine Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declaring that everyone deserves a habitable planet to live on and demanding action, now.

It was with trepidation that I approached writing a post that would be published on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Dr. King was an amazing human being. What could I write about that would be appropriate? There was no way I was going to write a post entitled 10 Ways to Green Your MLK Day Celebration or to put an environmental spin on Dr. King’s life.

So, I did what I often do when I do not know what I am writing about and conducted some research. I refreshed myself on Dr. King’s history, read several articles, and reread his “I Have a Dream…” speech that he delivered to a crowd of 250,000 people surrounding the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963.

The excerpt below is from that speech.

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy…Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

Dr. King embodied justice and a sense of urgency. Of course, I cannot say for certain but it seems to me that he believed all people are connected. I do, too.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait - 1964

I decided to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today by sharing my belief that we are all connected and why this is important. Perhaps you believe this, too, or will at least be willing to give it some thought.

Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. This is his portrait taken by an unknown photographer. Click here for the Wikipedia image page.

We are All Connected

Now, at the beginning of 2020, you and I plus billions of other people and non-human beings are living on Earth an amazing and ailing sphere spinning in the middle of nowhere. This is our home, our only home. There is no planet B.

The climate crisis crosses every boundary—real or imagined. We are all connected. Our fates are intertwined.

Therefore, we need to drop everything we are doing and focus on climate solutions, right? I hope you are shaking your head and thinking “I completely disagree with that statement.” because I do, too.

It is ridiculous (in my view) to think we can solve the climate crisis first and then worry about addressing other crises such as racism, discrimination, homelessness, hunger, and income inequality. Only a society of people who respect, value, and care for each other will be able to accomplish what we need to do. Hate, anger, and fear will not get the job done.

We need to transform our society. Social healing and ecological healing are the same work. One cannot succeed without the other.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fortunately, many, if not most, of the people leading the climate movement get it or at least they are starting to get it. Environmentalists are acknowledging that they need to meet people where they are, to listen to their ideas and concerns, and to support what other people feel is important, too. The smart organizations are asking themselves, “Who are we missing?” and are trying to find out.

After thinking about it for a couple of years, this past year I finally took action to expand my own horizons beyond environmental issues by doing things that I would not normally do.

This included activities like participating in the Women’s March to seek out and talk with people from organizations that have other concerns than the environment.

It involved doing things like standing up for the human rights of immigrants at a Lights for Liberty Rally and then contacting my elected officials to ask them what they are doing about the inhumane treatment of people at U.S. immigration detention centers.

Sometimes it meant going way outside of my comfort zone. For instance, I attended a workshop hosted by R.A.C.E. Matters SLO County where I was asked to confront my own white privilege and consider how I could use it to help build a more just and equitable community.

Are you interested in broadening your own horizons? If you are, where do you start? It does not matter just start. Surely there are issues or causes that interest you. Find something to do (no matter how small) and then do it.

What Can You Do Today?

For practice how about doing something today? Below are five of many possible ways to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the day we celebrate his birthday in the United States.

  • Read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream…” speech.
  • At dinner tonight, talk with whoever is sharing your meal about racism. If you are dining alone, then call someone this evening.
  • Watch the film 13th by director Ava DuVernay, 2016 (it’s available on Netflix).
  • Read the article The history white people need to learn by Mary-Alice Daniel, Salon, 02/07/14.
  • Today, sign up to participate in a meeting, event, or workshop about racism.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe the unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Featured Image at Top

Circle of hands resting on top of the sand – photo credit iStock/kycstudio.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

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