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In her new book “Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret,” Catherine Coleman Flowers refuses to conceal the toxic reality of environmental injustice in the U.S. She experienced it first-hand in her home of Lowndes County— just down the road from Selma, Alabama—where families’ health and safety is endangered by inadequate sanitation infrastructure. It’s a problem felt in America’s “Black Belt” as well as other rural communities around the country.
But Flowers also refuses to conceal her hope. Bringing light to a largely invisible issue, the truth-teller mobilizes communities, churches and policymakers to take action. In Flowers’ journey from a young civil rights activist to a seasoned environmental justice advocate, her fellow Christians will recognize a divine calling.
In March, we spoke with Flowers about her work to fight environmental injustice, the relationship between faith and activism, and how Christians can help protect the future of our neighbors and the planet we call home.
Sarah Holcomb: What does environmental injustice look like?
Catherine Flowers: Environmental justice issues arise when decisions are made to adversely impact people —who are generally marginalized or poor—that put profit over their health. And those communities aren’t at the table.
In “Cancer Alley,” people are getting sick because petrochemical plants are polluting the air and water. In Appalachia, [the coal industry] is blowing tops off the mountains. In Lowndes county, Alabama, where I grew up, septic systems are failing, creating a severe sanitation problem. Marginalized communities have always dealt with inequities when it comes to infrastructure. These issues are what’s in store for all of us if we do not deal with climate change.
SH: For you, what scriptures resonate with the calling to pursue environmental justice?
CF: I go back to Genesis. I think we misinterpret Genesis to mean that we do anything we want to the Garden of Eden. The way the story has been told, Eve ate the apple she wasn’t supposed to eat— but now we’re doing the same thing. When we’re blowing the top off mountains, we’re eating the apple. When we’re fracking to the point…