On the border of Georgia and South Carolina, the Central Savannah River area is home to 14 counties with large Black populations. It’s also home to a lot of nukes. “In these communities sits the crown jewel of the world’s nuclear arsenal,” says Reverend Brendolyn Jenkins Boseman, senior pastor at the Hudson Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Augusta, referring to the Savannah River Site, a 310-square-mile U.S. Department of Energy nuclear weapons plant built in the 1950s. The area also houses Plant Vogtle, the first new nuclear power plant built in the U.S. in more than three decades.
Boseman says it’s common for such potentially hazardous projects to be built in “low-wealth and politically impotent communities.” It’s an example of environmental racism, where redlining in the early and mid-20th century often forced minority communities into areas that housed industrial waste sites, causing health disparities ranging from air pollution to unsafe water. Because many of these areas are also close to climate disaster zones, the populations bear the brunt of things like flooding and extreme heat.
The Black church, long a source of social support and guidance for the community, is attempting to use that traditional role to raise awareness about climate change and environmental justice. A group of five female clergy leaders from different Christian faith groups started The Black Church-The Green Movement, a program for training pastors and church leaders across the country to, in turn, educate their own congregations on how climate issues are inextricably linked to other problems like poverty and food insecurity and to spur action, from community-level interventions to voting for climate-friendly candidates.
Black people are the most harmed by climate change: 40% are more likely to live in areas with the highest projected extreme temperature rises, and 34% with the highest projected child asthma increases due to bad air quality. “We face barriers and obstacles that are often not prevalent in other communities,” says Gloria Ricks, president and CEO of Mount Zion Community Outreach in Augusta, one of the five leaders. And yet environmental justice organizations receive only about 1% of all environmental grant dollars from philanthropic sectors.
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