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Diana Christopulos Featured Speaker at MLK Youth Day Program

January 24, 2009

Bishop Ed Mitchell, President of Roanoke Chapter Southern Christian Leadership Conference and RVCCC Board Chair Diana Christopulos

Diana Christopulos was a featured speaker at the Annual Martin Luther King Youth Day program, sponsored by the Roanoke Chapter of Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  Dr. Christopulos tied the issues of global warming and environmental justice to a call for action by all citizens.  A complete copy of her remarks appears below:

Remarks at the Martin Luther King Youth Day Celebration
Roanoke, Virginia
January 24, 2009

I feel so honored to speak here today on behalf of the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition – 145 affiliates representing over 15,000 people – working together on smart clean energy for our valley. In April 1968, when we lost Dr. King, I was a student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. My sorority was the only one on campus that included African-American and Asian-American women. One of my sorority sisters was part of a small group of black students that took over the student union at Cornell University one year later, and I was one of 10,000 students on that campus who stood with them by nonviolently taking over the ROTC building. We stood with our classmates and with the message of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Today I want to speak with you about justice – environmental justice. Dr. King was concerned about America, but he cared about the whole world. He said, “Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not yet had the ethical commitment to make it a brotherhood. . . We have got to do this.”

Dr. King knew that when there is an environmental disaster – flooding, drought, toxic spills, hazardous waste – poor people of every color suffer disproportionately. That is environmental injustice. And we all know, as Dr. King said, that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Today, the greatest environmental injustices are those caused by global warming – the climate change that is occurring because we are burning coal, oil and natural gas to power our society. On a cold day like today, global warming might sound like a pretty good idea. But global warming is terribly unjust. The developed world – the United States, Europe, and Japan – account for almost all of the excess CO2 that is in the air right now – and it stays there for about 100 years. We have a long head start on China.

Yet the worst effects of global warming will fall on the poorest 1 billion or so people in the world. 

  • Where it is already hot and dry, they will have more droughts, in places like the Sudan and Darfur.
  • In many of the lands that are swampy and wet, it will rain more, in places like Bangladesh and along the coast of Africa.
  • The ice is melting at the poles, and the seas are already rising, beginning to cover the island nations of the South Pacific, whose people have been asking us to do something about global warming since the 1970s.
  • As the oceans heat up, hurricanes are getting stronger. We have seen it here in America. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, we were all horrified to see the abandonment of the poor people of New Orleans.

We Americans can and should be the world’s leaders in putting a stop to global warming by conserving energy, being more efficient in its use and, eventually, using clean, limitless energy sources like the wind and the sun.

What can we, here do today for environmental justice? The people in this room know far more than I do about the courage it took to take the first steps to end racial inequality in our nation. It took courage, not money. The things people did were simple. They were things everyone could do.

  • Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus – she had courage, not money.
  • Here in Roanoke, Angela Norman drank from the white-only water fountain.
  • After Bloody Sunday, Dr. King and thousands of others walked from Selma to Montgomery.

Dealing with global warming is much easier, but just as important for the billions of people in this world who live on less than $2 a day. We can

  • Turn off the lights and the televisions when we aren’t using them (yes we can)
  • As our new president, Barack Obama advised us, we can keep the tires on our cars properly inflated to get better gas mileage (yes we can)
  • We can walk, ride the bus, carpool and bike instead of driving alone (yes we can)
  • And we can buy energy-efficient light bulbs, appliances and cars (yes we can)

So we have brought something for everyone here, to help you take another step in the right direction. – “This Little Light of Mine… let it shine.” This little light of mine is a compact fluorescent light bulb. It uses about ¼ the energy of an old-fashioned bulb. So it only puts out about ¼ as much pollution from that coal-burning power plant where we get 90% of our electricity. This little light of mine costs about $2, but it should save you close to $40 on your electric bill over the next 5 years. If every house in America changed just ONE light bulb, it would be like taking over 1 million cars off the road. If you have already changed your lights, then please take one and give it to a friend or a neighbor.

Please join with us in making the ethical commitment to make a brotherhood and sisterhood of this world’s neighborhood. Let your light shine!

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