Twenty-eight Episcopal bishops, including Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joined 83 bishops from around the Anglican Communion as signatories to Environmental Racism – When #BlackLives Don’t Matter, a statement issued on June 19 by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network. Titled as “Juneteenth Statement,” the call to action highlights numerous ways in which people of color suffer disproportionately from climate change.
“It is predominantly Black lives that are being impacted by drought, flooding, storms and sea level rise,” the statement says. “The delayed global response to climate injustice gives the impression that #blacklivesdontmatter. Without urgent action Black lives will continue to be the most impacted, being dispossessed from their lands and becoming climate refugees. We stand at a Kairos moment – in order to fight environmental injustice, we must also fight racial injustice.”
The historic expropriation and displacement of Indigenous people is highlighted in the statement, which references the ways in which many people continue to suffer in analogous ways. “Unjust economic structures and extractive industries subject Indigenous peoples and traditional Black communities to forced, violent removal from lands with which they have been integrally connected for centuries. Prominent Indigenous leaders — defenders of the land — from tribes such as the Guarani in Brazil, have been murdered and tribes terrorized.”
Indigenous and Black people also are disproportionately numbered among people forced to abandon their homes because of climate change, the statement continues. The Anglican Environmental Network estimates there are currently 40 million climate refugees, and suggests that the number could rise to one billion by 2050. Thousands of Indigenous people in Central America have been displaced in this way, it says, as have many in Tonga and Fiji, where rising sea levels threaten to make low-lying regions of the islands uninhabitable.
“Even in the midst of the wealthiest countries Black people bear the brunt of environmental racism. Dumpsites for toxic chemicals are situated near poorer Black communities. These communities become food deserts, lacking both access to nutritious food and safe water,” the statement says.
The document closes with a series of commitments by the Anglican Environmental Network focused on integrating advocacy against racism into its work. These include listening to the voices of Indigenous people and “recognizing and challenging theological ideologies and social norms that perpetuate racism,” including the Anglican Communion’s “ongoing Euro-centric values.” The group also promises to advocate for policy change and to participate in nonviolent protests with vulnerable populations affected by eco-injustice, and to act as a mediator between Indigenous people and extractive industry and farm leaders in negotiating fair settlements.
Other Anglican leaders endorsing the document include Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and the current primates of Central America; Brazil; Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia; Southern Africa, Mexico, and Canada, as well as several retired primates, including former presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
The Anglican Communion Environmental Network is one of eleven groups recognized and supported by the Anglican Communion. The networks, according to guidelines approved by the Anglican Consultative Council in 2018, “connect Anglicans globally and create a cluster of energy around a particular area of mission, ministry and concern.” The networks share stories of grassroots experience, develop and disseminate helpful resources, advocate in matters of common concern, share information with the Communion’s leaders and councils, and uphold one another in prayer. Other networks focus on issues like colleges and universities, safeguarding, peace and justice, women, families, and the needs of Indigenous and French and Portuguese language-speaking Anglicans.