Natural disasters can have devastating impacts on all communities, as we were reminded by the floods last year and Hurricane Matthew this month. But the hardest hit are low-income communities, which often have been stripped of their natural land barriers, exposing them to the worst impacts of natural disasters.
The wood-pellet industry, which produces bioenergy, is the newest in a long list of energy industries that extract resources from our low-income and predominantly African-American communities and leave environmental destruction and pollution.
Our Southern forests are being cut down and shipped to Europe to be burned for energy — nearly 10 million tons of trees last year alone. The industrial-scale facilities that have been proposed for South Carolina would need to log 75,000 acres of forests per year to meet their production goals. In addition to exposing communities to dust, noise and truck traffic, these facilities also expose communities to increased risk from natural disasters.
At a time when we need to ramp up our resistance to natural disasters, we are removing our best existing defense against climate change. Cutting native forests or replacing them with tree farms to fuel another country’s renewable energy needs puts our communities at risk. Not only are we abandoning our lifeboat, but since these forests are being burned and releasing carbon dioxide to fuel Europe’s energy needs, we are also taking the air out of our life vests.
We are all connected. As I like to say, the wind blows and water flows. When we fail to care for the least among us — as our faith commands that we do — we contribute to the problem. And eventually that problem will be at everyone’s doorstep. It is the responsibility of all of us to push for policies that protect our climate and our communities.
The job of our elected officials is not to look after special interests, or to follow campaign donors. It is to be the representatives of the people and serve the best interests of the people. Democracy is about putting people over profits, not the other way around.
South Carolina can lead the way in how we create new jobs, improve living conditions and protect communities from the impacts of natural disasters. Please join me in calling on our representatives to invest in renewables that value people and the environment.
Our forests provide vital protection from extreme weather, and we cannot afford to lose any more. To ensure our economic prosperity, to protect our health and children and to ensure our security and safety, we need to act now to protect our forests.
Rev. Woodberry is pastor of Kingdom Living Temple in Florence and serves on the EPA Environmental Justice Leadership Forum, the S.C. Energy Coalition and the Southeast Climate and Energy Network; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.