By Sam Killmeyer

As climate organizers, we envision and work towards a world where all living beings (human and more than human) are able to live lives free from ecological destruction. As grassroots organizers, the solutions that will get us to that livable future come from frontline communities and climate justice must be at the heart of everything we do. 

Here at 350 Colorado, one of our Pillars of Action is “Promote Just & Equitable Solutions.” But what does that mean? Continue reading to learn a few of the principles of climate justice, and check out great organizations like Climate Justice Alliance and Indigenous Environmental Network for more information on climate justice. 

What Is Climate Justice?

Climate justice is a type of environmental activism that addresses the social and ethical dimensions of climate change, not just the physical effects. Environmental justice takes into account the myriad effects of the climate crisis, centering those who bear the costs of climate change and working towards a just transition from extractive systems. 

At its core, climate justice means working towards fair, collective, and transparent climate solutions that focus on equality, human rights, race, gender, and class.

Principle 1: The Climate Crisis Affects Some More Than Others

Indigenous people, people of color, and low-income workers all suffer the most from the climate crisis. While no one will be safe from the climate crisis, the most vulnerable groups will bear the brunt of climate change – now and in the coming decades. 

Here in Colorado, we can see the effects of this inequality in where fracking wells are built (and not built) and where power plants are located. One of 350 Colorado’s primary campaigns right now is to stop the Suncor Refinery’s request to renew their Title V permit to pollute. Because of Suncor, the North Denver neighborhoods of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea (GES) are the most polluted zip code in the country. This zip code is home to neighborhoods of working people, over 80% of which are people of color. Learn more about Suncor and how 350 is working towards a just transition for the refinery that protects communities. 

Principle 2: Climate Action Must Put Frontline Communities First

The people who are affected by the climate crisis must have a say in the solutions to that crisis. Right now, much of climate policy, particularly at the national and global level, is being decided by politicians and lobbyists rather than local communities. In fact, those in power do their best to silence marginalized communities while they continue to profit from extractive industries. 

Climate justice means people must have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, from decisions like whether a fracking well will be built in their community to the types of climate solutions that would improve their lives. This people power is the foundation of grassroots organizing and the foundation of climate justice. For 350 Colorado, this principle means that as we work to shut down refineries like Suncor, we must also work to get funding and support to transition workers in the fossil fuel industry into good, well-paying jobs. 

Principle 3: Center Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Indigenous communities are the frontline of the climate crisis – as in the Line 3 Protests and at Standing Rock – and climate justice means centering indigenous knowledge. Our current capitalist system would like us to believe that the solutions to this crisis will be found in technology such as electric vehicles (read an article about how EVs won’t save the planet). While tech can be flashy, and it’s something that Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan relies heavily on, those who live on the frontlines of the crisis already know what works.

Long before humans first extracted fossil fuels and burned them for power, indigenous people lived in a way that supported life on our planet. And across the world, indigenous communities continue to live in sustainable ways that value the earth, and climate solutions must center this traditional knowledge. In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, a professor of biology and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, writes: 

“For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.”

What Can I Do? 

If we are to achieve a just transition from our extractive, oppressive system, we must stop the bad (keep fossil fuels in the ground!) and build the good at the same time. Transitions will occur, and we need to make sure these transitions are just and empower local communities. Here are a few things you can do to support climate justice:

  • Take action on Suncor and learn more about the Suncor refinery 
  • If you’re not already involved in 350 Colorado, sign up today to join one of our local groups or committees! Climate justice is at the heart of what we do, and 20,000+ Coloradoans are powering everything we do.
  • If you’d like to continue educating yourself on climate justice, the 350 Colorado leadership team recently completed a 21 Day Equity Challenge to inspire reflection and action in service of justice. Try completing the course with your community