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Why Energy Justice- By Dr. Robert Bullard

My new edited volume, Energy Justice, US and International Perspectives, is available for purchase now. After some thought, I felt that the best way to start this energy justice conversation was to present the forward to the book, which was written by Dr. Robert Bullard. This forward, the introductory chapter and the book's table of contents is available at:

Energy Justice- US and International Perspectives


Dr. Robert D. Bullard

Climate change is the number one problem of our time. We sometimes forget that climate change is much more than simply parts per million (of greenhouse gas emissions). The most distinctive feature of climate change is that the populations that contribute least to the problem of climate change are most likely to feel its gravest impacts. Such disproportionality makes it a serious social justice and human rights issue. Climate change is also a very complex issue to solve. It is a global issue, a national issue, and a local issue—all at the same time.

This is one reason that energy justice is so important. As complex as the issue of climate change is, there are some things we can say with certainty. One of them is that energy, specifically the use of fossil fuel, is what has brought us to the brink of climate catastrophe. Just as importantly, cleaning up our use of energy is the only way out for our planet. This represents a huge technological and policy challenge but it is also an urgent justice challenge.

How can we build principles of equity into the clean energy and related infrastructure investments that must be made to both mitigate climate change and adapt to it? How can we also ensure energy access and energy security for the world's citizens? Finally, how do we acknowledge and even correct the sins of past energy infrastructure decisions while making ones that will be just for future generations?

Energy justice allows us to address these questions and develop law and policy tools to address them. Energy justice builds upon the work of environmental justice and climate justice by examining the moral impacts of energy systems. Energy justice focuses the lens of racial justice, social justice, international development, and international human rights onto energy law and policy.

It is essential that this happen. Why is this? Every single day, vulnerable populations at the neighborhood level are grappling with the effects of climate change due to fossil fuel use. While there are countless examples of where climate change is wreaking havoc in the U.S. and across the globe, I can begin by speaking to what has happened in my own backyard.

In August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas. I joined millions of my neighbors as we evacuated from our homes ahead of the storm. Hurricane Harvey was to become the costliest tropical cyclone on record, inflicting approximately $125 billion in damage, primarily from widespread flooding in the Houston metropolitan area.

Houston is segregated and so is industrial pollution. Communities with higher percentages of people color and higher poverty levels face higher risks from chemical accidents and everyday toxic exposure. Port Arthur, Texas was considered an environmental “sacrifice zone” before Harvey — and home to the world’s largest oil refinery complexes, including the 3,600-acre Motiva plant, Shell Oil, Saudi Aramco, and the 4,000-acre Texas-based Valero. The Keystone XL pipeline was planned to end in this sixty-four percent people of color city.

Hurricane Harvey exacerbated pre-storm inequality and increased health threats to vulnerable communities. More than 1.3 million pounds of extra air pollution were released by chemical plants, oil refineries and industrial facilities along the Texas Gulf Coast in the week after Harvey struck. Houston experienced flaring, leaks, and chemical discharges from oil refineries, chemical plants, and shale drilling sites. A majority (nine of sixteen) of the Texas Superfund sites flooded by Hurricane Harvey are in low-income neighborhoods or communities of color. The most vulnerable population impacted by the “triple whammy” of flooding, pollution from chemical plants and refineries, and mental stress of hurricane evacuation are children. In order to be just, Harvey recovery plans will need to address these legacy environmental disparities in the context of global climate change.

Climate change is no longer a problem for tomorrow. Climate change, and the existing dirty fossil fuel assets that caused it, are wreaking havoc on the most vulnerable right now. Energy justice unites these concepts, and develops theoretical and practical linkages between communities, nations, and generations with regard to energy systems. Energy justice also presents opportunities to move from legal justice frameworks to just energy outcomes. As energy justice scholarship moves forward, I look forward to seeing plans, tools, and solutions develop that can address today's energy and climate crises. We must transition away from fossil fuels in a just way. There simply is no alternative.

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