Angela (AGB): (00:06)
Welcome to the Radical Imagination podcast where we dive into the stories and solutions that are fueling change. I'm your host, Angela Glover Blackwell. Today we're going to talk about one of the biggest challenges we face as a planet.
news clip: (00:18)
In recent years, a warming planet and melting glaciers have resulted in rising seas and an increase in extreme weather events.
Angela (AGB): (00:29)
If expert predictions are right, by the end of this century, more than 187 million people around the world will be displaced by the impacts of climate change.
news clip: (00:40)
At state commissioned report predicts rising water could swallow more land along the Gulf of Mexico if nothing is done to address damage caused by climate change and commercial activity.
news clip: (00:51)
In Louisiana alone. As a result of rising sea levels, a football field size of coast land disappears into the water every hour and a half. Many people live in and States along the U.S. Gulf Coast, often in low-income communities of color, will be disproportionately affected and could soon become climate migrants.
news clip: (01:11)
Angela (AGB): (01:19)
Earlier this year, hundreds of people gathered in New Orleans' Congo Square to launch the Gulf South for a Green New Deal and raise awareness about the global climate crisis and the impact that it's already having on people's lives. Colette Pichon Battle is the founder and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, which supports the region's green new deal. And she joins us today to talk about climate change and environmental justice. Colette, welcome to radical imagination.
Colette (CPB): (01:49)
Thank you for having me.
Angela (AGB): (01:50)
Could you share your background and your connection to Louisiana and these issues of climate change and environmental justice?
Colette (CPB): (01:57)
Yeah. You know, I'm a down-home bayou girl, born and raised in Louisiana. And I was raised in the water, the mud, the swamp, the heat, lots of crawling things. And uh, I didn't know that that meant that I was an environmentalist. I thought that just meant I was country. Um, I went to school, away from here and worked a little while as an attorney in the DC area. And when Katrina hit, came home to help rebuild and saw not only the devastation of that one storm, but really a degradation of are land that made the storm so bad.
news clip: (02:37)
As we reached the front door, we met Terrence and Victoria Tungsten swimming up to their chin. "They have people in three-story houses are still trying to survive out there..."
Speaker 3: (02:46)
So I began asking just a lot of questions. And about five years after Katrina, the BP oil drilling disaster.
news clip: (02:52)
A massive oil slick now covering some 600 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico.
Colette (CPB): (02:58)
It was just another perspective on what was happening to our community, and really started connecting the dots between the extractive industries of South Louisiana with the BP oil drilling disaster ...really made it tough for people like my community, people of color, African American, Creole communities to recover. So, from there I started understanding that it wasn't just about a storm, it was about a broader system, that it wasn't just about global warming, It was about a broader change. And, uh, I was in.
Angela (AGB): (03:31)
So you found the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. How did that come about?
Colette (CPB): (03:35)
That came about out of sheer frustration, what I saw over and over again where people in my community come up to me and say, what does this mean As they pointed to the paperwork necessary to just recover, to get themselves back on their feet. And so the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy started as a program that specifies its legal work around disaster but then connects legal work to movement building work, preparing for climate change, and fighting for justice.
Angela (AGB): (04:00)
Could you paint a picture of what's at stake for people living along the Gulf coast today?
Colette (CPB): (04:05)
Unfortunately, we're seeing more places go into open water. Um, we're seeing communities across South Louisiana but also South Mississippi having to move North, slowly vacating communities, whole communities, emptying out houses or not fixing houses that were hurt in the last storm. And so you see ghost towns, you see lots of folks who travel down on the weekends to check on property that they can no longer live in. You see schools that are empty, churches empty, because a lot of the population that has the ability to move has moved. The water is rising, the warm air and the warm temperatures of the water are helping it to expand and we're losing the land that once housed medicine, culture, people, communities and so we're seeing a slow type of displacement, much different from the Katrina storm where we saw massive displacement all at one time. We're seeing a slow trickle. This is going to affect millions of people. What we're anticipating right now is mass displacement over the next 10 to 15 years and that's hard to talk about because I don't think anybody has an answer and I don't think folks are willing to do the hard work to figure out how to do that in a just an equitable way.
Angela (AGB): (05:30)
Just to be clear, what makes someone a climate migrant and are there climate migrants already given past natural disasters?
Colette (CPB): (05:39)
Thank you for that question. Oftentimes we hear climate refugee, which is not the correct term, in my opinion, because refugee is a legal term of art, and it necessarily means that you are crossing an international border. Climate migration, however, lends itself to internally displaced people, which is what we had in the aftermath of Katrina. Who has to move because of the impact of climate change. We are certainly clear that the people who have to move in a storm are climate migrants. For example, after Katrina, many people left to places like Texas and Georgia and Tennessee, but there's another kind of migration that is associated with climate that I think we don't talk about very much, which is around our extractive industries. The extractive industries are responsible for accelerating climate change and they are also responsible for the pollution of many Black and Brown and indigenous communities. So these communities end up being forced to move or they begged to move to get away from the toxins. These are again, those two sides of this climate conversation, right? Katrina is an impact of fossil fuel extraction and environmental justice relocation is caused by that refining of those fossil fuels. The displacement of people in a storm are caused by the storms that come. These things are connected. We don't know how to talk about them connectedly but they are connected.
Angela (AGB): (07:02)
The environmental movement has struggled to bring urgency to what is happening to the planet and to the people on it. And part of the reason that I have thought they've struggled with that is because they have couched it as an assault on the environment that people ought to worry about because of what it's going to mean for their great grandchildren, because they haven't looked at the people who are being impacted today. They haven't brought in either the stories or the energy for whom it is urgent now. And that sort of extracting the people from the environment I think has hurt the movement.
Colette (CPB): (07:40)
I think you're right about that. What's difficult in being in this climate movement as an African American woman is watching that happen again and again, watching the invisibilization of people who are already experiencing climate change as a current reality as opposed to the conversation about what will happen when climate change occurs in the future. Um, and in South Louisiana we really don't have that privilege to think about the future. We're already moving. Our populations are already shifting. We are already relocating because of this. I think the climate justice movement is trying to assert the leadership and centering the leadership of people of color who are already on the front lines. Many who don't have that cushion, who don't have that safety net to weather anymore than what we've already weathered.
Angela (AGB): (08:34)
What are some of the most pressing issues you've come across in the communities where you've been working in Mississippi and Louisiana and other places?
Colette (CPB): (08:42)
There are two things that are coming to head. One is the loss of land and what that means for the development and transfer of wealth for Black and Brown communities, specifically African American and native communities who economically and an income wise don't have a lot of wealth, but in land they have a place for their homes and their communities, and their families to be. Those are the places that are being taken by the sea right now. And so they lose not only their ability to generate wealth, but they lose their physical asset. At the same time, on the other end of that spectrum is really watching Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas sell out to these corporations to extract even more. Almost to sort of right off the Southern coast and say, you know, if it's going down anyway, we might as well extract the rest of these trees, the rest of this oil, the rest of this gas, which is just accelerating a reality. South Mississippi, we're going to see one of the largest wood pellet plants in the world. It's going to take down several hundred acres of old growth forest, um, to provide fuel for Europe. In Louisiana we're seeing the building of methane plants, which is an accelerant to global warming. We're seeing these deals being made by the current political leadership. This is a perfect storm, if you will. The river is as high as it is because of increased precipitation due to climate change.
news clip: (10:16)
Tonight, Tropical Storm Barry continues to hammer the Gulf Coast...it is now a slow moving tropical storm that promises to saturate the Bayou state. Louisiana's Governor John Bel Edwards. "This is just the beginning. I ask everyone to stay vigilant and be safe." High winds damaged ...
Colette (CPB): (10:35)
This last storm that we had looked small to a lot of people who know about hurricanes, but for those of us who are watching the climate impacts, this was one of the scary moments because we could see that the City of New Orleans was indeed in danger of levies failing again.
news clip: (10:50)
An above average hurricane season, and that's bad news for Native Americans on a small Island off the Louisiana coast. Rising waters are swallowing up their island.
Angela (AGB): (10:59)
Is this part of what's impactING the Houma Nation?
Colette (CPB): (11:02)
The Houma Nation is one of several tribes in South Louisiana that are facing sea level rise, relocation, and really an understanding of how to plan for what we know is to come. There are islands that are already are relocating. Of course, the first federal dollars for climate relocation went to South Louisiana for tribes that lived on Isle de Jean Charles. Um, and the Houma Nation is one of those tribes located there. And in addition, that tribe has 17,000 tribal role members all along South Louisiana. So they're going to have to move a lot of their people and the move is happening mostly because of sea level rise. But in Plaquemines Parish, where the state of Louisiana has declared that it will open the river, uh, they call it a river diversion. Um, there will be some communities flooded out or more likely flood due to that opening of the river so that it can rebuild land that we've lost to sea level rise. So what's going to happen to the Houma Nation and to African American communities that were established after the emancipation proclamation is that many of them are going to be displaced, not by the sea level rise, although that would happen eventually, but by the opening of the Mississippi River.
Angela (AGB): (12:24)
So you are actually working with communities helping to build solidarity between Black and indigenous communities, all being impacted by climate change and all facing the prospect of being or becoming climate migrants. Tell us about that work and why it's important for these groups to work together?
Colette (CPB): (12:43)
Indigenous people of North America and the indigenous people of Africa. I see it as a real opportunity for power of the most ancient kind to really show itself. If you think about the original sin of this country and you think about who could survive something like that, and you look at who's here, these Africans survived, these Native Americans survived. Shouldn't we learn from the people who survived our greatest atrocities, our greatest challenges? And my work has been to really ask folks to try to remember what it was like when Native power systems were in place, when African power systems were in place; what can we learn from those ancient cultures and how can we think of a different society, a different system, a different community? It's not easy. There is some deep pain. I am often dealing with communities that have been pitted against each other for a long time. So before we even get to a corporation, being held accountable, we've got to do a lot of healing and repair. These are not things that people think of when they think about climate justice work. No one's thinking about how we heal relationships between African Americans and Native Americans. No one's thinking about how we pull in Asian Americans and Eastern Europeans who have been in this area for a long time into a race conversation. Um, these things are hard, It's lonely, it's isolated, it's not well funded. There's a lot of accountability and acknowledgement that has to happen.
Angela (AGB): (14:14)
Could you talk about the Gulf South for the Green New Deal? What makes it different if it is from the national green new deal effort championed by U.S. Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez?
news clip: (14:25)
We are going to transition this country into the future. The transition Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is talking about is her first piece of legislation, a nonbinding resolution, the Green New Deal.
Colette (CPB): (14:39)
I love talking about the Green New Deal for many reasons, mostly because I'm frustrated by it. The house resolution, championed by representative Ocasio-Cortez, was I thought a great and bold vision to put out into the world. Working on recovery, working on jobs, working on new infrastructure after disaster. The resolution, however, there was no mention of fisheries or barely a mention of coastal communities. There's no mention of the unique reality of the Gulf South. This is not new. Most federal policy neglects the South altogether, doesn't know how to talk about this region, even though this region is important to the national agriculture, the national economy, somehow we're always left out of these federal bills. So we just took it upon ourselves to declare that we're gonna make our own policy platform. And Gulf South for a Green New Deal was a call to everyone working on climate, environment, jobs, prison reform, to come together and say, listen, we need a green new deal for us and we want to make it uniquely tailored for the realities of the Gulf South. So we really see this as an opportunity. Uh, we had a launch in May, with over 800 people coming together, that night was led by African American and Native American leadership. If we are going to create policy rooted in equity and justice, we're going to have to center the people on the front lines and we're going to have to have a good time. I mean, this work to make a better community is not all sad and horrible. You know, we're from South Louisiana. This is going to be beautiful and fun, It's going to taste good and sound good, it's gonna feel good.
Colette (CPB): (16:24)
And you realize that if we can pull this off on a small scale, um, and pull in more tribes from South Louisiana and more African American communities from South Louisiana and take this Gulf Southwide, we could have an Alliance of African American and Native American people who can see each other, um, for the ancient power that they hold.
Angela (AGB): (16:45)
Thank you for your extraordinary leadership and capacity to be able to pull together all of your experiences at a time that all of that knowledge is needed to deal with what's coming. I think that people who are working for change really do have to bring everything they have. What's the superpower that you bring Colette? What's your superpower?
Colette (CPB): (17:08)
You know, to understand people's story and to hear the power or the pain. And to really sort of understand where those things go, if we're gonna make a strategy for change. Sometimes we've got to be able to see things in a simple way or we've got to be able to see things in a way that we can simply communicate to others. And I think I have the ability to hear, really deeply, and to synthesize really clearly and to build trust so that we can all see what we have to work with and then agree to work together.
Angela (AGB): (17:45)
Colette, thank you for speaking with us.
Colette (CPB): (17:47)
Thank you so much for having me.
Angela (AGB): (17:51)
Colette Pichon Battle is the founder and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy.
Angela (AGB): (18:10)
Coming up on Radical Imagination, we hear from August Creppell, he's the chief of the United Houma Nation in Southeast Louisiana, one of many communities along the Gulf Coast facing displacement. Stay with us.
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Angela (AGB): (19:25)
And we're back. Last July, Tropical Storm Barry made landfall, the U.S. Gulf Coast, causing severe flooding and forcing vulnerable communities to evacuate. Among those effected where the United Houma Nation of Southeast Louisiana. The 17,000 member tribe will soon have to decide if and where to relocate amid the threat of rising sea levels. To talk more about the Houma people's post-storm recovery and the challenges that lay ahead for them. We're joined by United Houma Nation Chief August Creppell. Chief Creppell, welcome to Radical Imagination.
Chief Creppell: (20:02)
Thank you for having me here.
Angela (AGB): (20:03)
Tell us about the history of the Houma and its connection to the Gulf Coast region.
Chief Creppell: (20:08)
Well, the history of the Houma, we started out around the Angola area and then as the French and the Europeans came down, we moved down to around Baton Rouge and that was our hunting grounds. We actually marked it with a red stick. That's how he got the name Baton Rouge. And that was to mark the boundary between the Houma Tribe and the Bayou ghoulish that was there to to let them notice. It was our territory. And then, um, we were spread out into several different ways and a little bit about our people. We spread out between six different parishes, have over 17,000 people. And the reason why we spread out between six different parishes, are people weren't allowed to go to school until 1964 / 1965, something like that. We weren't allowed in public schools. We had missionaries and some would teach up to third grade, some up to the fifth grade. Our people went through a lot of things, you know,
Angela (AGB): (20:58)
What was it like to grow up in the Houma nation?
Chief Creppell: (21:01)
Well, I was saying on the bayou, you know, you have three places up the bayou, down the bayou, or across the bayou, you know. I grew up on the lower part of Jefferson Parish and some places have, you know, like counties, but we have parishes and a little Indian boy speaking French. Growing up on the bayou, all we knew was, you know, fishing, hunting and trapping and stuff like that. People would tell us, you know, your Indian, you know, you're not going nowhere and do nothing, you know. But, uh, I guess, you know, God had a bigger plan for me and I became chief a year ago. It's, you know, it's, it's amazing. It's like a roller coaster ride, it's up and down and God had to prepare me for this because I have to make decisions for over 17,000 people every day.
Angela (AGB): (21:44)
Chief Creppell, how did you first hear about the threat of displacement because of climate change and what does it mean for you personally and as Chief?
Chief Creppell: (21:53)
Well, people, you know, people don't realize why climate change is a big issue for us, cause we are along the Gulf Coast and our coast is just washing away, you know, there's not much protection between the Gulf and our people. Just the last hurricane we had just had Hurricane Barry was a tropical one storm. You know, just barely made a tropical one, we had a few people that rode it out and we had like 12 people that the coast guard had to evacuate off their roof.
news clip: (22:18)
"Hey yeah, we're here at the Houma Airport right now and you can see behind me that the helicopter with the coast guard where they rescued those people from Isle de Jean Charles Island. It's here..."
Chief Creppell: (22:29)
Some of these houses, with up to a foot of mud in their houses, and the furniture overturned. And you could see the water line in their houses where they had six to eight foot and a lot of our people don't have insurance and they live day to day, you know, and to see everything they own destroyed, it hurt me as the Chief, that I couldn't do more
Chief Creppell: (22:56)
But you know, our people, uh, you know, they are used to this stuff and it's amazing how some of them just clean up and bleach up and whatever it takes to move on.
Angela (AGB): (23:18)
Is there an explicit plan that the government has put forth for relocation, where certain amounts of money are being spent, certain relocation services are provided? How's the government proposing that this happened?
Chief Creppell: (23:30)
Well, the state, they have a program, it's a $48 million project and they have one location where they are proposing to relocate.
news clip: (23:39)
A $48 million federally funded resettlement project. The first of its kind, the project is designed to move the Island's remaining inhabitants to higher ground, some 40 miles away.
Chief Creppell: (23:51)
But as the Chief of the tribe, I only met with them one time since I've been in office. Never heard anything from them since, they want us to be part of this process, but we are not hearing what the process is. They're going forward and making their own decisions for our people. And that's all it is. You either go here or you're on your own. When majority of our people decide they don't want to go anyway, you know,
news clip: (24:14)
Nobody wants to leave the Island, but they recognize for the most part that they're not going to be able to live there.
Chief Creppell: (24:21)
And they ask me what I do as a Chief. Well, the people that want to move, I have to support them. And the people that don't want to move, we'll have to support them because they've been living in the same places for, for years. You know, for generations, and this is the lifestyle they want to live. You know, and a lot of our people don't trust the government because from the beginning, you know, they want to put stuff on paper and it wasn't as good as the paper they wrote on. And now here you go, trying round up our Indians again and tell them where they need to live, instead of asking them where they went to Lu.
Angela (AGB): (24:52)
The people in this country seem to be in denial in some places about climate change and that it will be huge, devastating, and unrelenting. And we can't just count on cleaning up and moving forward. Some people are going to have to move. For the first time, we're actually seeing migrants as a result of climate change in this country. Is this a conversation that you are having within the Tribe, within the Houma Nation? Are people talking about this?
Chief Creppell: (25:23)
You know, we try to have as much conversation as we can and bring in different organizations and stuff. Then speak on how we can move up people forward and look out for the best interests of our future. You know, and the biggest thing is to educate our kids. You know, with this climate change, because they are our future, we won't always be here, so we need to teach them as much as we can. People that don't believe it, all they have to do is come down to the United Houma Nation and we'll show you how real it is.
Angela (AGB): (25:51)
It takes a lot to be able to be in the role that you're in at any time, but particularly in times that cause people to have to engage in this kind of change. Um, what's your superpower? Chief Creppell.
Chief Creppell: (26:04)
Um, and you know, I'm a pastor and you know, I have to put my faith in him. You know, without him, I couldn't lead my people, just cause I'm the Chief of the tribe, I'm not on the top of the mountain. I believe a Chief is under his people holding them up.
Angela (AGB): (26:18)
Chief Creppell, thank you for speaking with us.
Chief Creppell: (26:21)
Thank you for everything. We appreciate you having us on here.
Angela (AGB): (26:27)
August Creppell is the Chief of the United Houma Nation in Louisiana.
Angela (AGB): (26:42)
Native and Black people along the Gulf Coast are deeply tied to the land, and they've been hurt first and worst by climate change. Epic storms, rising seas, and flooding are tearing people from their homes, communities, and cultural roots. The encouraging news is that Native people and Black people are forging bonds around their shared challenges and they're laying out a narrative that should awaken us all. It draws a straight line from an economy built on extraction, racial oppression, and exploitation to the climate crisis threatening the planet. My conversations today with two inspiring leaders make a couple of things clear. 1) climate change is not about the future. Low-income communities and communities of color are suffering the effects now, and we must act with urgency; 2) environmental action and policy must center people, the best solutions, the ones that are just an equitable and actually work come from the wisdom, voice, experience, and radical imagination of the people closest to the problem. People finding strength and power in solidarity.
Angela (AGB): (28:16)
Radical Imagination was produced by the Futuro Studios for PolicyLink. The Futuro Studios team includes Marlon Bishop, Andrés Caballero, Ruxandra Guidi, Stephanie Lebow, Jeanne Montalvo, and Leah Shaw. The PolicyLink team includes Rachel Gichinga, Glenda Johnson, Fran Smith, Jacob Goolkasian, and Milly Hawk Daniel. Our theme music was composed by Taka Yusuzawa and Alex Suguira. I'm your host, Angela Glover Blackwell. Join us again next time and in the meantime, you can find us firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to subscribe and share.
Angela (AGB): (28:16)
For our next episode of Radical Imagination, we take a look at the concept of a federal job guarantee, a radical idea from the past that's coming back in a big way.
news clip: (29:18)
Federal job guarantee would provide a wage level that really gives everyone the opportunity to have economic dignity as it relates to income.
Angela (AGB): (29:25)
That's next time on Radical Imagination.