Human Rights and the Environment

Standing with immigrants, civil rights, Indigenous rights, and the environment

Immigrants, civil rights, Indigenous rights and the environment are under attack. These issues are intertwined, and such attacks put democracy at risk.

Strong protections for the environment are also strong protections for people. We cannot drink oil and we cannot eat money. True wealth is clean water, air, and soil. True wealth lies in healthy and biodiverse ecosystems that support all life, including people. Without clean air and water, without robust and healthy ecosystems– a free and just society is not possible. If all people do not have access to the basic and essential resources for survival, a democratic society cannot be stable, and civil rights will continue to be attacked by those who have disproportionate power and privilege.

Society is increasingly global and interconnected. We are all living on one small planet. We cannot pretend that isolationism is possible. Shutting the door on refugees and immigrants will not stop people fleeing difficult or desperate situations. Walls will not erase the truth that US policies have caused suffering and destabilization as a result of heavy-handed and unjust wars, driven by our own overconsumption and misguided self-interests. Walls will not stop or keep us safe from climate change, worldwide air pollution, ocean ecosystem collapse, or disruption of food chains crucial for much of the life on this planet.

People are fleeing unlivable conditions to come to the United States for a better life. Colonialism and US imperial history of resource extraction and economic exploitation in Mexico and Central America are largely responsible for causing mass migration northward. Many people are also returning to their families in the US after deportation. Because of the history and present-day policies that endanger so many, the US has a moral obligation to take in refugees and immigrants. Most of us have ancestors who immigrated to this continent, or are immigrants ourselves. We live on land stolen from Indigenous peoples. Shutting the door on immigration and hiding behind big walls and military power will not make us safer. Continually pillaging the world’s resources then attempting to address the resulting instability with bombs, coups, militarization, and privatization only creates more suffering and destabilization. Americans cannot continue to consume the world’s oil and other resources, often under great coercion and force, and expect that we will be safe, or that the world’s resources will not run out.

Instability creates environmental degradation. When countries are war-torn, when people are desperate, and when families struggle for jobs, security, and survival—these are times when it is difficult for people to prioritize functioning natural ecosystems. Unfortunately, politicians and business interests take advantage of this, and manipulate people to believe in a false choice—that we must always pick between either a healthy environment or our own jobs and families. The short-term gains, privatization of resources, and the environmental degradation that come out of this false dichotomy creates large profits for the wealthy and perpetuates boom-bust cycles that do not provide stability.

The Trump administration’s war on the environment and civil rights are multiple fronts of the same attack. These attacks work in concert to create fear and distraction, making it easier to gut environmental laws and regulations, dismantle regulatory agencies, transfer public resources and land into private hands, and silence dissent. We are seeing bold and greedy grabs for natural resources from big business interests– grabs for public lands and sovereign Indigenous lands, for oil and timber, and grabs for power to allow private corporations to make huge profits, unfettered by regulations that protect human health and the environment. If Trump and the republicans succeed, they will make us all more vulnerable to scarcities and instabilities, including those caused by climate change. Indigenous peoples, people of color, and poor communities are most affected by these scarcities, and by pollution, climate change, and environmental injustice, both within the US and globally. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, illustrates an example of the human health and environmental disasters that arise from deregulation and the dismantling of democratic institutions, and disproportionately affect marginalized communities. We need to demand a way forward that fosters justice and democracy, and protects the environment.

Strong environmental protections are part of the foundation for a just and equitable society. We need stronger environmental laws and more protected wild landscapes, not less. We need to keep public lands in public hands, and we need to vigilantly protect ecosystem integrity on those lands.

We are motivated by love. Many of us have dedicated our lives to fighting for the environment. Ultimately, it is our deep love for the beauty and intricacy of wild lands and wild things that drives our passion to defend them. We want our kids and future generations to grow up in a world where they still exist. We want wild nature and all species to exist and thrive for their own sake.

We also see clearly that rights for people, for immigrants, for refugees, for people of color and Indigenous peoples, for LGBTQ people—these are inexorably intertwined with protecting water and the land. Without a free and just society, we cannot hope to protect our natural world and all that it gives. Without access to clean water and healthy ecosystems, we cannot hope to have a stable or just democratic society.

We do not see these struggles as separate. When immigrants, civil rights, and Indigenous people’s rights are under attack, as they are now, we in the environmental community stand with you. We will continue to stand with immigrants and for civil and Indigenous rights in the streets, and during the long journey of work ahead.

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project