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“Justice is what love looks like in public”

A message from Tonya Graham, Geos Institute Executive Director

Cornel West, author of Race Matters, reminds us to “never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

Here at the Geos Institute, we talk often about the larger forces at work in the climate crisis and the need to bank hard toward collaboration, courage, and trust - and away from isolation, fear, and violence - as we face increasing disruptions that harm our communities, economies, and ecosystems.

It can be all too easy in this work to imagine that we are starting from a place where people feel safe and experience climate disruptions from a foundation of trust – that is, it can be easy for those of us who are white.

Many of us working on climate change have drawn comparisons between the global COVID-19 crisis and the climate crisis, calling COVID-19 a “dry run” for the climate crisis. If that is the case, and there is good reason to believe it is, this moment is instructive and we must do our part to ensure that it is actually a turning point. 

In frontline communities (primarily low income and communities of color) more people are contracting COVID-19 and more are dying from it than in higher wealth, largely white communities. They are also facing much more severe economic impacts. As a result, people of color are experiencing George Floyd’s murder on top of worries about their finances and health - and the fear caused by the systemic racism experienced in their daily lives.

Unless we take meaningful action now, we should expect more of this piling on as the climate crisis unfolds.

Climate disruptions are not going to happen in a vacuum. They will roll in on top of a system that is either strong, resilient, and just, or one that is weak, unjust, and easily broken. This second one is what we have in our country right now, painfully highlighted by the combination of COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd.

Successfully addressing the climate crisis hinges on our ability to dismantle oppressive legal and cultural systems that prevent people from reaching their full potential. We need all ideas, especially those from people in communities that have been resilient in the face of systemic racism and injustice. And, standing up for fairness and equity is simply the right thing to do.

Here at the Geos Institute, we have worked to weave social equity through our Practical Guide to Building Climate Resilience and Climate Ready Communities program as well as our efforts to partner with tribes and First Nations to protect their traditional/sacred forests in Alaska and Canada.

The current situation in our country has brought into stark relief the reality of the job ahead of us and made it clear that the clock is ticking on our ability to make the necessary changes in the face of climate disruption.

Much more work needs to be done in areas that are not traditionally our sphere – advocacy for racial justice in our law enforcement system is a critically important one. So, in addition to continuing to address social equity through our programs, the Geos Institute has signed on to receive advocacy communications from the NAACP, Color of Change, and the Grassroots Law Project so that we will be notified when there are opportunities for us to lend our organizational voice to racial justice advocacy efforts.

Our goal is to be a good ally while we do our own internal work. After all, banking toward collaboration, courage, and trust is essentially banking toward love – and justice is just what love looks like in public.

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