Connections between racial justice & the environmental movement

All Minnesotans -- Black, white, urban, rural, Indigenous and immigrant -- are tied together. We share one home, and we are therefore united in making our communities and planet healthy for all who live here.  

Yet the inhumane daily assaults on Black and brown people by our police and government directly threaten our ability to maintain a healthy planet. We cannot expect to come together to protect the planet if white supremacy and racism continue to tear us apart. 

As an environmentalist, when speaking out against white supremacy and police brutality, you might hear some people say, “stick to your lane,” or “these issues aren’t environmental issues.”

That is untrue. 

Systemic racism shows up as environmental injustice. Black people are exposed to 50% more pollution than white people and are three times more likely to die from pollution than white people. Black children are 2-3 times more likely to suffer from lead poisoning than white kids and 10 times more likely to die from complications from asthma. Black folks pay more of their income on their energy bills than whites; and their families, homes, businesses are more vulnerable to climate impacts

Here’s just one example in Minneapolis: the HERC garbage incinerator burns garbage from all over the metro area to heat buildings for the corporate elite in downtown Minneapolis and sell power to Xcel energy. But the pollution from the incinerator blows right into North Minneapolis, the city’s largest Black neighborhood. 

The benefits of the incinerator go to downtown corporations, and white families in the suburbs, who are led to believe their garbage is disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner, but the downsides of the incinerator fall predominantly on poor Black and brown people.

We can fix this injustice. The HERC garbage burner is owned by Hennepin County and operated by cooperative utility Great River Energy. The garbage burner directly heats downtown Minneapolis and sells electricity to Xcel. The Sierra Club has partnered with front line organizations, led by Black and brown community members, to get Hennepin County to implement zero waste policies and close down the incinerator.  

The issues of anti-Black racism, police violence, and ecological destruction are intrinsically connected. We’re in this ecological and societal mess because many corporate and political leaders treat Black, brown and indigenous communities, poor people, and the natural world as disposable.

Take two examples from our recent 2020 Legislative session, where Republican leaders in the State Senate prevented progress on clean energy and police reform.  The Senate spent much of the session pushing a “Fossil Fuels Forever” bill and calling it “Clean Energy First.” This “Fossil Fuels Forever” bill was pushed by the Chamber of Commerce, which is composed of corporations, including Flint Hills Refinery owned by the Koch Brothers. Then in the special session, these same Republican senators paid lip service to the issue of police brutality and reform, but ended the June special session arbitrarily without a deal on any reform measures, or funding for communities, or any other bill being passed.

And the police are enforcers and perpetrators of this unjust system. 

The police are paid for by our tax dollars. We should determine how these dollars are spent. Most Minnesotans are in agreement that all deserve to get home safely at night and have the right to protest. Yet our police kill people, particularly Black Americans, and shut-down protests. 

We can and must take back power over our dollars. Leaders who support this unjust system, like majority members of the Minnesota Senate are upholding white supremacy. We elect these people and we can vote them out.

We live in an extractive economy - capitalism - that values profit over the environment and human life. But by supporting the movements that are fighting for Black liberation and demanding our government actually work for its people - ALL its people - we are building the power needed to win on all our issues from climate change to wilderness protections. 

Everyone -- including you -- has an important role to play. Our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) staff and volunteer leaders are leading the way through direct leadership roles in racial justice and restorative justice work and partnerships with other organizations and movement leaders. Our white staff and volunteers are working on rooting out white supremacy culture in the organization and our broader environmental community. On this journey, we strive to show-up, learn, have uncomfortable conversations with family and friends, listen to and amplify Black voices, and take direction from local Black leadership

Below are some resources we’ve compiled that can be useful for further learning.

We look forward to building a truly just, sustainable world with you. We invite you to take our survey on Racial Justice and the Sierra Club, so we can follow-up with you and also invite you to upcoming equity and justice related events.

Sierra Club Stop Line 3 team at a rally in Duluth
The Sierra Club Stop Line 3 team at a rally in Duluth.

Sierra Club Transformation

In 2015 the Minnesota Sierra Club made the following equity commitment:

As the leading grassroots voice for Minnesota’s environment, the Sierra Club North Star Chapter is committed to:

  • Better serving our mission and our members by becoming an intercultural, anti-racist organization that is committed to partnering with communities and organizations to eradicate all forms of oppression;

  • Reflecting in our issue priorities the environmental concerns of all communities that call our state home;

  • Transforming our staff, leadership, membership, and organizational culture to be more reflective of Minnesota’s diverse communities by actively recruiting and warmly welcoming members of all communities into the Chapter’s work;

  • Continually evaluating the Chapter’s issue priorities and campaign plans through the lenses of Equity and Environmental Justice.

Progress Report

To enact this commitment the Chapter created a Change & Equity Team to lead internal and external transformation. Here’s a current snapshot of our progress:

  • Volunteer Structure & Trainings — We are offering volunteer teams resources for how to create inclusive, equitable spaces based on the Jemez Principles (check them out at We have shifted team structures to be more action oriented. We are offering training and resources on the basics of environmental justice and how to support it. (See our calendar for upcoming trainings.)

  • Partner Events and Support — We are collaborating with partner organizations led by Blacks, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) to make sure we are aligned with their needs and benefiting from their perspective on how to build a more just and equitable world.

  • Campaigns Centered in Equity — All of our campaigns from zero waste to clean air affect Minnesotans differently. We are working to ensure that the voices of marginalized communities are heard and at the center of our campaign work.

Get involved

photo of Rally for Workers' Rights and Climate Justice in downtown Minneapolis
Rally for Workers' Rights and Climate Justice in downtown Minneapolis, led by SEIU-26 local janitors' union, supported by Sierra Club and other climate justice allies.


  • The MPD150 website. This FAQ zine is meant to be a starting point for thinking and learning about police abolition.