Rev. Yearwood, Hip Hop Caucus Leader, Gives Dose of Climate Reality
Rev. Yearwood discusses climate and environmental injustices
This past August Rev. Lennox Yearwood teamed with environmental activists Van Jones and Bill McKibben to pen an op-ed in the New York Daily News expressing their opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline that is being planned to pump oil from dirty tar sands piles in Canada and then shipped to the Gulf Coast. In the op-ed, Yearwood, the executive director of the Hip Hop Caucus, and his cohorts wrote: “We believe [Martin Luther] King, who as his life progressed embraced the anti-war cause and showed his solidarity with poor people all over the world, would have joined in the fight against climate change, which is already wreaking havoc on those living closest to the margin.”
Rev. Yearwood has been one of the leading voices in the environmental justice movement in terms of representing the hip hop generation. He also signed on to support Al Gore's "Climate Reality Project" launched this week. Loop 21 talked with Rev. Yearwood about the state of environmental protection today and why more people of color should be concerned.
Loop 21: Al Gore launched Climate Reality this week to smack down climate change deniers and Hip Hop Caucus was one of the few non-white organizations to show support. Why was your endorsement important?
Rev. Lennox Yearwood: We are supporting the launch of Gore's new organization Climate Reality. We are always extremely supportive of anybody or organization that is working to bring more awareness around issues of climate change, poverty and pollution. We support this organization wholeheartedly in their desire and will to bring more awareness to the world regarding climate change. With climate justice, and really environmental justice, it has a long history, unfortunately, when it comes to poor communities on the front line, as we’ve seen from the Bronx to down in Florida and all around this country. What we’ve seen in my home state in Louisiana, we’ve seen Cancer Alley and the BP oil spill. So this Climate Reality project is about fighting pollution. We also wholeheartedly support the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).I think it’s foolish for companies to think [carbon dioxide regulations] is a job killer when the pollution they are creating is a killer. We think there is a more effective way for companies to hire people and create jobs but at the same time, we’re not for putting profits before people.
Loop 21: So you're not dismayed by some of the decisions EPA has had to make recently, not to mention decisions made for EPA?
We are very excited about what [EPA Administrator] Lisa Jackson is pushing for. We were disappointed when the President decided to curtail ozone regulations. While we understand some of the policy maneuverings around that, we want the Administration to be much more protective of all Americans. I don’t care if they are in the Tea Party or the Black Panther Party, we want people to be safe from smog, chemicals and pollutions.
Loop 21: Some believe it's just the Republicans or Tea Party who are obstructing environmental protections, but in your home state Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, is normally one of the chief blockers right?
It would be wrong to say it is only the Republicans or Tea Party siding with Big Business or Big Oil in ways that harm communities. I have talked with Sen. Mary Landrieu on several occasions about the BP oil spill to see about it not happening again, and the effects it has had on shrimpers and fishermen, particularly black shrimpers who were definitely affected by the oil spill. I get that that’s one of three industries that support Louisiana -- fossil fuel, tourism and seafood -- but if we are hurting the Gulf Coast and hurting the people then this is not the way to go.
Loop 21: The protests against the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline just took place at the White House and you didn't see a lot of people of color out there. Should we be more concerned about that?
No, there were not many people of color involved. This is an issue that hurts people of color, especially Native Americans. It really hurts them the most probably. As far as the protests were concerned there were not a tremendous number of people of color engaged in this rally where there were arrests of nearly 1300 people over two weeks. I commend Bill McKibben of 350.org for leading this. People of color need to be involved in this issue and they need to be at the forefront and the middle and the back. It’s that serious.
I really don't think so. It just was an issue that happened to be going on at this time that not a majority of people of color were at. But I don’t think a lot of people in the environmental movement were aware of the Keystone XL protests. A lot were still reeling from the President’s decision on smog regulations, the BP oil spill, and even still the defeat of the climate bill in the Senate two years ago. There was not a huge understanding of what was being proposed, and how dirty the water and oil would be and how hard it is on the communities in Canada and in northern America, with the pipeline going across the breadbasket of the country and then going into the Gulf. I don’t think people understood the magnitude of that.