Aissa Lynn Dearing is a climate justice activist from Durham, North Carolina.
What is environmental racism?
Environmental racism is looking at the intersectionality of the climate crisis and systemic racism. Climate change predominantly impacts low income people of color. For example, the intentional placement of power plants and landfills near native communities. Or the lack of access to resources that low income communities face after a natural disaster…I live in a food desert (an area that doesn’t have abundant grocery stores with healthy eating options) but I live two minutes away from a landfill. Its looking at climate change through the lens of people not having adequate healthcare when they’re breathing in toxic air or having to drive twenty minutes to get decent food.
Why did you decide to start your own climate justice initiative?
After trying to get involved in multiple climate change movements in my area, I noticed they were predominantly older white people. They weren’t connecting with young people of color. I found NC Warn, and they focus on climate and energy justice. We co-founded the Durham Youth Climate Justice Initiative that specifically holds space for young people of color. We decided to come up with a space to talk about issues that we see in our communities.
How do we make the environmental movement more accessible to folx who are low-income, who are people of color, who are young?
That’s exactly what we’re all about. We host a series of climate conversations for young people of color. The way we make it accessible is we host them in locations that are on bus stop routes, by housing projects, by Section 8 housing. We provide transportation stipends and food. We make it a mission to contact public schools first. We also contact people who are disconnected from school or workplaces. It’s also important that there is more education around the history of environmental racism.
Do you think things are looking up in terms of the climate movement, with all the activism happening?
I’m honestly not sure. Things have just been very uncertain in the past election cycle. I would say that there is a sense of urgency when it comes to climate, and I understand the urgency of the coronavirus and in some areas, for the earth, its been better to have humans in quarantine…because the climate has been on the back-burner because of this very in your face issue…let’s just say I’m not hopeful. Action really does need to be taken, and I get why its on the backburner, but just because its a lower looming threat doesn’t make it any less of a threat.
What can ordinary folx like myself do to help the environmental movement?
It starts with education. I remember taking an earth and environmental science class, and it was so boring. We are learning about the climate crisis in a way that seems so disconnected from people. If we visited the landfills in our community, if we had projects around climate in our community, that would be a great start. Also voting — these other intersections are so important. Voting for policies, not just the Green New Deal, but also people who take pledges to not take donations from fossil fuel companies. At the legislative level, there are so many things that I’ve wanted to see that are quote unquote radical, but are needed if we don’t want to see the planet’s temperature rise by 7 degrees in a hundred years. Economics and money are so important — I stopped buying things from Amazon, Urban Outfitters, Forever21, because of how unsustainable their markets are. I’ve tried to go 100% thrift store and sustainable shopping, so I would encourage others to do the same. Buy products that are more sustainable.