Connecting the Dots: Hurricane Sandy, Climate Change & Poverty

This article was originally published in the April 2013 Issue of Sojourners Magazine.

Image: Hurricane collage, Amir Ridhwan / Shutterstock.com

OVER THE PAST few years, we have seen tangible proof that creation is terribly off balance. Global warming is causing droughts and heat waves around the world and is making hurricanes more powerful. In my hometown of New York City, we have experienced the effects of severe weather: Hurricane Irene in 2011 and, most recently, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Sandy was an eye-opening demonstration that climate change is a poverty issue, a race issue, and an immigration issue.

Though neighborhoods of all socioeconomic statuses were affected by Sandy, poorer communities are taking longer to recover. Many of them were without electricity, heat, and water longer than were more affluent communities. For instance, residents of Red Hook’s public housing projects in Brooklyn were without power and water for two weeks after the storm. My cousin Dabriah Alston, a Red Hook resident, told me that the city ignored residents’ repeated requests for information about when the heat would come back on: “The bottom line is, they don’t care about us. Projects are filled with poor folk, and as we all know, the poor are seldom a priority.”
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Destroying West Virginia, One Mountain At A Time Christians battle King Coal to save Appalachia

I wrote this article for the June 2010 issue of Sojourners Magazine.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency announced rules that could significantly reduce mountaintop-removal mining in the U.S. For longtime activists like Allen Johnson, co-founder of the group Christians for the Mountains (CFTM), it’s proof that “hope is not always in vain”—but only one step of a long journey towards environmental and economic justice in coal-mining areas of Appalachia.

Hope has long been kept alive by people like Kayford, West Virginia’s Larry Gibson, who hasn’t been afraid to stand up to the principalities and powers to protect his family’s mountain. Gibson has literally put his life on the line, facing gunshots, death threats from coal company supporters, and even the killing of his dogs.

According to Gibson, mountaintop removal, in which companies blow up mountains with dynamite to access coal, “destroyed over 3 million acres of mountains, 1.5 million in West Virginia alone.” Gibson calls the boundary between his property and the area destroyed by mountaintop removal “Hell’s Gate,” because no one can live on the other side.

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