Why we organize for Climate Justice, Racial Justice, a Just Transition, and a healthy democracy | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Why we organize for Climate Justice, Racial Justice, a Just Transition, and a healthy democracy

Anyone in the U.S. under the age of forty and paying attention has lived their entire life aware of the existential threat caused by the global climate crisis. In recent years, Americans of all ages have expressed increased levels of alarm and urgency about climate change. According to Pew Research Center, in 2020 nearly seven-in-ten Biden voters (sixty-eight percent) said climate change was very important to their vote; six-in-ten Americans viewed climate change as “a major threat to the well-being of the U.S.” A Tufts University study found that young Americans named climate change as one of their top three concerns motivating them to vote in 2020, behind COVID-19 and racism.  

That growing sense of alarm is well founded: more than a century of extraction and burning of fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and deforestation have loaded the earth’s atmosphere with heat-trapping greenhouse gases, causing average global temperatures to rise by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit or one degree Celsius. Just that seemingly small change has already supercharged climate change, contributing to more frequent and more extreme weather disasters. The last year alone has brought record-breaking floods in eastern Kentucky, record wildfires in the western U.S., record numbers of destructive hurricanes, and record-breaking extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest. 

Climate change is happening now. It is already causing widespread harm and suffering. And without urgent and sustained actions, the world is on a path to an even more dangerous future. Three years ago, a report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions in half over the next ten years to avoid catastrophic climate change, prevent massive human suffering, and reduce the risks of economic and ecosystem collapse. 

In the years since that dire warning, social movements have swelled in the US and around the world, led by young people, Indigenous communities, and Black and brown communities, and others on the frontlines of climate, economic, racial justice, and health disasters. Yet nothing has been done to significantly change the reckless path we are on. 

The failure of governments to respond to the climate crisis is in large part the result of the poisoning of our democracy, media, and relationships by the same fossil fuel companies and financial interests that have long polluted our air, water, and land. Globally and here in Kentucky, oil, gas, and coal companies invest in corrupt politicians; manufacture misinformation; and promote public narratives that stir up anti-Black racism and stoke the fears of white voters. Then the politicians they help elect – including Kentucky’s Senator Mitch McConnell – seek to preserve their power in the face of a growing multi-racial progressive majority by passing racist voter suppression and election laws, packing the courts, and continuing to fuel racial resentment. 

Systemic racism, economic inequality, climate change, and threats to our democracy are interlocking crises. Securing a livable planet and a future where all people can thrive – no matter the color of our skin, where we live, or how much money or privilege we have – requires an all-in, inclusive, anti-racist approach to rebuilding our economy, relationships, and democracy. 

That’s what KFTC means when we say we are working to shape a Just Transition: a Just Transition is about a just process and just outcomes for the people and places most affected by environmental devastation and pollution, systemic racism, and economic exploitation. It means winning climate policies that prioritize, protect, and invest in the health, wealth, and well-being of Black, brown, and Indigenous communities and workers, and make life better in all impacted communities. A Just Transition also means rejecting false choices and false solutions, like the idea that some communities are disposable, but some industries are not.

It can be hard to even imagine a world, much less make that vision real on the ground. In recent years, KFTC and many allies have taken on the challenge of describing what we mean by Just Transition in bold, transformative, and specific ways. 

  • In 2017 KFTC produced the Empower Kentucky Plan, a people’s plan for a Just Transition to a Clean Energy Economy in Kentucky. (See: empowerkentucky.org). 
  • In 2019 the Sunrise Movement and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared their vision and demands for a Green New Deal to address racism, poverty, and climate. (See: youtu.be/d9uTH0iprVQ)
  • In 2020 a coalition of frontline climate justice organizations – including Climate Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network, People’s Action, and KFTC –wrote a document called “The People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy” describing 15 ways we need to transform our economy and relationships. (See: climatejusticealliance.org/regenerativeeconomy/)
  • In 2021 the Movement for Black Lives released a Red, Black, and Green New Deal, a climate agenda that puts Black liberation at the center of the global climate struggle. (See: redblackgreennewdeal.org)
  • In 2021 KFTC hosted a Just Imagine Art Show, in which 40 artists shared their “visions for a just, sustainable, and anti-racist Kentucky,” or “what our relationship with the environment and each other would be if we were free from white supremacy and scarcity,” or “the joy, hurt, or harm experienced while doing work with KFTC.” (See: justimagineky.org)

How to get involved

What’s your vision for just, sustainable, and anti-racist Kentucky, a place where all people – no matter our race, age, gender, sexual orientation, wealth, or zip code - can thrive? What stories from your own life experience motivate you to work for climate justice and a Just Transition? How can we center racial justice in our work? And how can we be skillful and effective when engaging other people about climate and Just Transition, including in conversations with family, neighbors, coworkers, and voters? 

These are just some of the questions KFTC members and allies will have a chance to explore this summer and fall as part of a series of trainings and volunteer canvassing days aimed at building thousands of new relationships needed to win transformative policies for climate, jobs, justice, and democracy. 

Look for information coming soon about how to sign up for in person and online trainings and volunteer canvassing events in August, September, October and November.