Our planet is melting. Who cares?

planet is melting

The Right Reverend William Barber has revived Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. He has reminded us that the triple evils of that age were racism, militarism, and poverty. But he has advanced the struggle for social and economic justice by including ecological devastation and the intersection between religion and morality.

Dr. King indicated that one of the evils could not exist without another. Racism, militarism, and poverty were intertwined. Moving it forward, capitalism, militarism, and racism have been responsible for much of the ecological devastation we have experienced.

Very obvious

Rev. William Barber has made it plain. His namesake son (William Barber III) has been involved in the environmental movement and took his dad to Alaska, where the melting of the glaciers was obvious.

“We could see where they were five years ago, and where they are today. We are losing our glaciers.” The young Dr. Barber told his dad that we might see seismic changes in as few as 20 years.

Glaciers are melting in Alaska and Antarctica. Government reports were delayed because of the government shutdown, but a final report from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration says that 2018 was one of the four hottest years on record for the globe.

The heat makes a difference. It accelerates storms and hurricanes. It places low-lying areas at risk. And the fluctuations between cold and heat affect the quality of roads.

Many Republicans are oblivious to the challenges of climate change. That man who occupies the White House spent 82 minutes bloviating, without mentioning climate change or global warming (or the 400th year since enslaved people crossed these wretched borders). Even as he ignored a pressing issue, there were official acknowledgments of the ways that global warming has shifted our climate realities.

Not much difference

In the name of party loyalty, some Republicans are willing to imperil our planet. Democrats aren’t much better. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been focused on climate change and has assembled a congressional panel to deal with the matter. Some say that the speaker’s focus is insufficient, and first-year legislator Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez (DNY) has promoted a “Green New Deal” that addresses comprehensive ways to deal with social, economic, and environmental justice.

Leader Pelosi and Congresswoman AOC both care about the ways our planet is melting, although they approach legislative fixes in different ways. Pelosi would take a deep dive in environmental issues. AOC would connect environmental devastation to wages, education, and quality of life. The two dynamos are on the same page, but their approach is different. Pelosi is the more skilled leader and negotiator and will find her position enhanced if she can use the AOC agenda to advance her own.

The bottom line, though, is that our planet is melting. In the days after the pathetic campaign speech masquerading as a State of the Union address, we saw Democrats lift the challenges of climate change and Republicans ignore those challenges. And our world melts on.

Serious impacts

Oceans are rising. Lowlands (mostly populated by low-income and Black people) are disappearing. And before Democrats took power in this term, few other than Pelosi and the New Green Deal have been willing to address matters of climate change and, in the words of the New Poor People’s Campaign, “ecological devastation.”

How does ecological devastation shape issues of social and economic justice? When folks choose to disrespect the environment, they mainly want to disrespect those who are most vulnerable – people who are at the periphery of the economy, those who have garbage dumps and toxic waste placed near their homes. There was a focus on environmental justice with the Environmental Protection Agency before this administration decided that there was no need to protect the environment. And there has been a stunning silence among civil rights organizations who don’t think that the melting of our plant is essential.

Our planet is melting. A few legislators care. What about the rest of us? Do we understand in the words of Rev. William Barber, that without a healthy planet, we have no platform to fight for social and economic justice, for our civil rights?


Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. Her latest book, “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available at www.juliannemalveaux.com.


  1. Am not a politician, so speak as one of the “rest of us”, and many of us care. And do this work as a part of our daily lives. Think my entire environmental engineering profession cares. And many black religious organizations care with climate justice interfaith conferences occurring even in…Florida. Another bottom line is that those who like like me and her are far removed from the labs and expeditions that are researching climate change impacts. Few are in the university departments working on solutions. Few live in places with adequate green spaces, healthy food, and safe spaces to just be if not exercise. So, our caring is there and it is complex, and it is interconnected. And maybe we will change how our respective institutions address these issues as to date, they continue to increase disparities, yet be regarded as producing highly competent individuals. And we are part of that system. Though maybe only a small part for there are so few of us.


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