Environmental Justice in Action: 5 Lessons from the Field

March 21st was a gorgeous spring day in the coastal plain of the US South. It was the International Day of Forests. The relationship between forests, environmental justice, and climate change was at the heart. Government officials, community leaders, and organizations gathered. Together we embarked on an important tour in South and North Carolina.

forest river with stones on shores at sunset

The coastal plain of the US South is ground zero for industrial logging. It has also been a target for the expanding biomass industry. The biomass industry logs trees, turns them into pellets, and ships them overseas. The pellets are then burned for energy. The industry continues building new wood pellet biomass facilities within environmental justice communities. These communities already dealing with the impacts of:

  • pollution
  • industrial logging
  • climate change

Since taking office, President Biden’s administration has advanced environmental justice. Yet, the administration has found it challenging to create real on-the-ground change. These areas need greater attention from the Biden Administration.

This tour was a win for environmental justice and forest protection in the US South.

The tour included federal agencies (CEQ, EPA, USDA, DOJ, DOE), community members, and allied organizations. It was a tour of forest, climate, and justice impacts in North and South Carolina.

Here are five key lessons learned from this tour:

1. Understanding environmental justice means leaving your desk

Community members often ask decision-makers to “come for a visit.” There is no substitute for real-world experience. Results often follow when decision-makers see the impacts with their own eyes.

We commend the Biden administration for taking the time to complete this tour. It can be challenging to get federal officials into the field. But this puts the administration’s words on environmental justice into action.

2. Relationships matter

Communities know the solutions. Governments often have the resources. Usually, what’s missing is the relationships. Much of Dogwood Alliance’s work is successful because of these kinds of relationships.

This tour is an example of placing relationships at the center of change. The stakes are too high not to build these relationships. Without them, communities on the frontlines of industrial logging get left behind. Our continued work won’t let that happen.

3.Community space is critical

Creating change takes people coming together. For communities organizing, it’s critical to have a space to gather. Environmental justice communities, especially in rural areas, often don’t have spaces like this.

The tour visited the Environmental Justice Training Center in Brittons Neck, South Carolina. This center is a model for rural communities dealing with climate change impacts.

Visiting the Environmental Justice Training Center in Brittons Neck, South Carolina.

4. Solutions must center nature

Communities living on the frontlines are all too familiar with the harms of logging. They’ve been experiencing them for decades. Unfortunately, public and private efforts often double down on the same extraction model. Does industrial logging bring economic prosperity to these regions? If it did, the coastal plain of the US South would be one of the wealthiest. In reality, it’s the opposite.

To break this cycle of extraction, policies and funding must begin to center nature as a solution. We can no longer bail out dirty industries like big biomass. We can’t afford to delay funding and new regulations that keep our forests standing. Instead, let’s invest in community health and quality of life.

It is often said that how we value nature reflects how we value ourselves. It’s time to put this principle into action.

5. Celebrate

This work can be heavy. Some issues seem insurmountable. Solutions can feel so distant that they’re hard to visualize. But one of the most crucial lessons we’ve learned is the importance of celebration. Taking time to laugh, sing, dance, and connect makes success possible.

I saw this happen throughout the tour. People laughing, engaging in lively conversations, and celebrating each other. If we’re going to create real and lasting change, we must find joy together.

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3 Responses to “Environmental Justice in Action: 5 Lessons from the Field”

  1. The article points up the important elements of fighting offenses in any field. It’s great that lawmakers experienced the horrible air quality and witnessed the tragedy of seeing beautiful forests and wetlands demolished without benefit to the community of jobs — Just profits to the offending companies claiming to help the climate when in fact they’re destroying it.


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