Colette Pichon Battle on Climate Justice Reparations

Prefer to Listen?

Subscribe to our podcast to listen to this week’s episode on your favorite podcast platform.

What can we learn from the experiences of people living on the frontlines of climate catastrophe? “There’s beautiful resistance out there,” says Colette Pichon Battle. She is a Louisiana native who began her work in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 when she and so many others lost their homes. A leading voice in climate justice and Black liberation movements, Pichon Battle founded the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) that focused on equitable climate resilience in the Gulf South. Now she has expanded her vision into Taproot Earth, to include work in Appalachia, the global Black diaspora and geographies across the world with a focus on climate migration and Taproot’s work around Global Climate Reparations. According to a 2022 report by the International Organization for Migration, in the US, anywhere from 4.2 to 13.1 million people could become victims of floods by the year 2100. It is the reality that Pichon Battle has been alerting us to for years — climate change isn’t looming,  it’s here. With suffocating orange wildfire smoke, deadly heat waves and drenching rain; with hurricanes, floods and landslides — we have crossed what some call the change horizon. Can it also be a liberation horizon? Colette believes it can. Today’s program is devoted to her evolving understanding of how the crises of climate, migration, capitalism and over-policing are connected, and what is our work to do. Plus a commentary from Laura.

“If we choose to be our best selves in this moment, if we choose to work through fear in this moment, if we choose courage and each other, we can actually stop not just the oppression of my people, but the oppression of yours.” – Colette Pichon Battle

“What I need is white allies learning about whatever ethnicity, whatever cultural tradition they come from, and how did they live with the land and how do we put those things together? . . . Why aren’t we fighting together for the sake of this planet?” – Colette Pichon Battle





LAURA FLANDERS: A couple of years after Hurricane Katrina, today’s guest was invited to study a map, a map of predicted land loss due to climate change in southern Louisiana. The map showed massive devastation and the predicted disappearance of much of her home place due to rising tides and the encroachment of the ocean. Since then, millions of people have watched the TED Talk that she gave about that experience. She and the organization she founded, the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy have become global leaders on the issue of just transition. Colette Pichon Battle has won prestigious awards, most recently the Heights Award for the environment. Meanwhile, though, those sea waters have continued to rise and as we record this, saltwater is expected to enter New Orleans’s drinking water any day. Governor John Bell Edwards signed a state of emergency in August because of just this, and in September, president Joe Biden announced that he was making federal disaster assistance available. It is the reality that Pichon battle has been alerting us to for years. Climate change isn’t looming. It is here with suffocating orange, wildfire smoke, deadly heat waves and drenching rain with hurricanes, floods and landslides. We have crossed what some are calling the change horizon. Can it also be a liberation horizon? Colette believes that it can. To that end in 2022, she founded a new organization, taproot Earth, to expand her work to Appalachia the global black diaspora and around the world. She’s participated in cops, she’s participating in COP 28, the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai this year. She’s also been on this program several times, but usually we’re speaking at the speed of breaking news in some sort of urgent crisis. Today we are taking time and devoting the whole program to her evolving understanding of how the crisis of climate migration, capitalism, extraction and over-policing are connected and what it is that is our work to do in these times. Colette ham Battle, it seems as if we never talk to you when you are at home. You are actually now in California as we begin this conversation, but I am terribly glad to have you on the show again, welcome.

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a real honor to be on the show.

LAURA FLANDERS: Let’s start with just grounding ourselves with who is on our mind right now?

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: Always with me at the beginning of any conversation are just all of my ancestors and the people who have given me the courage and the bloodline that I have now to fight this very large fight with a lot of potential, a lot of possibility. And so I just think about the land I come from, which is Choctaw territory in southeast Louisiana. That’s my grandmother’s bloodline. The black folks who helped to build this country, especially in south Louisiana. That river, the Mississippi was the entry point to a lot of black people coming into North America, coming into the United States. And so I can feel them sometimes the essence of these families that have passed through South Louisiana in particular. And I just think about so many people on the front lines. This morning I spoke with a woman in Kenya who was preparing for a climate gathering there and there’re these amazing women fighting for their communities everywhere and I get to talk with them and I get to be sisters with them and I get to connect. So just thinking about them, and I also saw this cute kid this morning as I was getting some coffee and I just thought, they need us to win. They need us to get this right.

LAURA FLANDERS: With so much in your home place of southeast Louisiana. And as you said, so much work to be done on the Gulf Coast. I was struck to hear that you had started a global initiative and one that took you out of that base. Why and what does that work look like?

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: I could always feel it. I knew even before Katrina that I was a citizen of the world. My mother saw too that with all of her children. Louisiana is playing a role in a global conversation, the issues that we’re seeing in South Louisiana caused by particular sets of companies are being seen around the world. This issue of climate crisis and climate chaos does not stop at man made borders. We’re seeing particular conditions in places I’ve had to learn about Bangladesh because they lose land the way Louisiana does because we’re both sitting on river deltas and there’s a certain thing that you have to know about that kind of land in this kind of sea level rise. So the conversation about Louisiana is local, but it is absolutely part of a global narrative and a global understanding of the global issue of our lifetime.

LAURA FLANDERS: So what is Taproot earth intended to do?

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: We hope to challenge the economic system that’s at the root of this climate crisis is at the root of this philosophy of extraction. We don’t just want to point out what’s broken. We want to actually invest in frontline solutions to this global climate crisis and this gets us to black liberation. A lot of the solutions are there. A lot of the impacts that we’re seeing in frontline communities that we’re acknowledging are what they are because of colonization and have what they have because of scarcity. I think this is an opportunity for us and Taproot is really seeking to build out a network across the Gulf Appalachia, the black diaspora, to put forward some new ideas and new ways of being on the planet.

LAURA FLANDERS: Talk about the money aspect of that. There is money involved. You’re not just asking people to give up development altogether.

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: What we have to really get clear about, especially in the United States, is over consumption and domination, right? That’s not the same thing as everybody having what they need. It is about us taking a look at how much American consumption, American privilege, American desire for comfort is actually causing an imbalance to the planet. That said, we’re going to have to use some of the systems that we have now until we have new and better ones. What does it mean for our capital system? What does it mean for investments that people might have so that they can have a sustainable solid future? Why not take your money out of oil and gas and put it into renewable energy? Why not shift how you make your money or how you stabilize yourself into something that’s not going to harm the planet or its people. We’re also talking about a billion dollar reparations fund to the ground. What does it mean for folks who are acknowledging that they have benefited for generations from theft, from taking? What does it mean to have a place to be able to give that back? And that’s really how we’re thinking about our refund and our global refund and how that can be done in a governance, a collective governance by the front lines, but a contribution by people who are looking to move themselves through a process of repair.

LAURA FLANDERS: Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act dedicates some 370 billion towards climate resilience work. How does your refund differ from that?

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: It was a piece of historic legislation and I have to acknowledge that, but I also have to acknowledge in the very same breath it sacrificed the Gulf. And what we’ve seen in this piece of legislation is in addition to historic ways of talking about climate and environment and investing in that is a doubling down on the benefit that corporations who have caused the problem, we’re giving them the ability to say, we want to make the rest of the money that we’ve predicted into the future and we want to try out technologies on communities that we don’t care about. It is unequivocally racist and classist and it’s really a devaluation of humanity to allow these kinds of technologies to be tried out on us. This is not the first time the south has had experimentation on our humanity.

LAURA FLANDERS: Explain what you mean by new technologies being tried out on people in the south.

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: So the billions of dollars are going to carbon capture sequestration technologies that have not been proven to one, capture what they’re supposed to capture out of the air. This is not just about carbon reduction, but if you think it is, then you build technologies to reduce carbon. But those technologies have not proven to reduce the carbon. In fact, the reports that are coming out now are saying they’re doing less than what they say they were capable of doing if they’re doing anything at all. Carbon capture utilization, hydrogen technologies, gray and pink and blue. These are terrible investments, but they are billion dollar profit gaining experimentations for the same industry that got us here in the first place. And I have to say that because that is what the historic legislation brought to us, an acknowledgement of environment and climate in a particular way, but also a repeated sacrifice of the south in a very familiar and terrible way.

LAURA FLANDERS: So the refund is different.

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: This refund is saying for those who want to go through a particular journey of repair and restoration, this is a place to put dollars that will then be collectively governed by the front lines who were extracted from in the first place. They will decide, they will practice their own autonomy, they will practice their own self-determination. They will move back from that individual way of thinking of capital to a collective way of thinking of managing our collective resources and that is how the dollars will be dispersed.
LAURA FLANDERS: Is investment coming and where’s it coming from?

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: The process has just begun. What we have gotten together first is Taproot Noir, a global black climate leaders network and started building up a governance circle of folks who will determine what happens with that money and we’ll go get the money starting in 2024 in a more direct way and we welcome everyone to really think about that. What is this climate crisis? This is a moment to really think about our role and our bloodline. What have we contributed to? What have we benefited from and how do we put things in right order? How do we rebalance the refund is going to be a great way to do it, but it’s really just going to be a drop in the bucket. It’s going to be a model for new financial systems, for ways of being that can be replicated around the world.

LAURA FLANDERS: If Chevron came to you tomorrow, as Chevron has come to countries around the world, most recently the South American country of Guyana and say, give us the right to drill offshore and we will bring great riches to your country. That’s what they’ve said to Guyana country with medium incomes of something like $9,000 a year at the beginning of this decade. It’s attractive, mostly the country’s going for it. They say they’re going to put the money towards resilience programs, et cetera, et cetera. If Chevron came to you tomorrow and your friends at Tap Ruth and said, listen, we’ll give you a cut of all the money that we are going to be drilling over the next few decades, and not to mention our gas inventions too. What do you say?

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: This is just a very sobering reality that I would tell any country, anybody and everybody around me, there are these moments of climate disasters where money means nothing. If you don’t have access to your natural resources, you do not survive. We learned this in the BP oil drilling disaster when there were hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil in the one resource that every poor person had access to, which is the water. You couldn’t fish. You couldn’t get the very basic things you needed because technically BP bought the water with that oil. There is no amount of money that should allow for drilling to happen. Instead, we should be asking for what we deserve even without drilling, why don’t you just have Chevron payback, all of the millions of dollars in royalties that it owes to every frontline community? Let’s make those demands. We don’t have to be on our knees here. In fact, if we recognize our power, we can make the demands that we know we deserve and if they don’t comply, we can build new alliances to make new solutions.

LAURA FLANDERS: While we’re talking water, I do want to ask you what you know about the New Orleans water situation.

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: Oh man, this is my worst nightmare and I’m coming out of Katrina telling you this is my worst nightmare. Exxon uses more fresh water out of the Mississippi than all of the population of Baton Rouge. They use that for their refinery. This is where we get to troublesome conclusions about what’s going to happen when humans don’t have the very thing that their life depends on, which is access to clean water. Right now, what we’re seeing in South Louisiana is not just salt water coming up the Mississippi River, which is the most voluminous river in North America. They call it the mighty Mississippi. They call it the Chebe. That is the indigenous word. It means big water. The big water has diminished so much that the sea level rise is coming in and it’s coming up, the fresh water coming, everyone’s watching when the salt water will hit New Orleans, but it has already hit Plaquemines Parish. We were down there two months ago talking to people who didn’t have access to fresh water. These are small indigenous communities that nobody cares about, but we haven’t had water for a long time. Now this is a problem, but this is not the only place where there’s a problem. Sea level rise, heat, access to water, access to energy that we don’t have to pay extra money for. These are the things that have to be on the table. No more drilling, no more destruction. We need to start solving these problems and we’ve got to start from the front lines.

LAURA FLANDERS: The front lines, no question are raced and gendered and classed in the way that you’ve described. At the same time, people in very affluent cities and places have been feeling it. New York City couldn’t use the subways, saw what it was like to be flooding the way that it did at the end of this summer. The mountains northeast felt what it was like not to be able to breathe the air with the smoke turning the skies orange, it all begins to feel so huge that it can become disempowering or worse. We can run into preferring denial. Just let me go back and we can see which politicians are catering to that. How do you look to those ancestors you mentioned at the beginning to see a future that is not just resilient against awful, but actually joyful and perhaps has richness that we haven’t met yet or can’t remember?

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: Traditions, culture, cultural traditions, indigenous traditions have told us for a long time, this is not about you, but you are part of a very special family of humans. There was something before you and something after you, and you are playing a very small but important role in managing an entire system of people who are connected to each other. Right now, that climate fear, that nihilism, that denial is because people have been completely indoctrinated into a level of individualism that has cut them off from their people and their story and this broader story of humanity. We have to reconnect first to who we are. I don’t need, you know, white allies learning about African traditions and then repeating them to me. That’s not helpful. What I need is white allies learning about whatever ethnicity, whatever cultural tradition they come from, and how did they live with the land because everybody did, and how do we put those things together? I’ll go get my African tradition. You go get your Irish run. Turns out we both have warriors. Why aren’t we fighting together for the sake of this planet? If you know you have that, then what you have is the power to change the trajectory that we’re on right now.

LAURA FLANDERS: You are seeing and studying and connecting with and visiting people all over the world. Tell us what you’re finding that could give people a glimpse of something beyond this situation that we’re in that might make us be able to be fueled also by a love and desire for this kind of change. I think that’s often what we’re missing in our climate discussion. We’ve got to just hunker down and do make do with less. Absolutely. But maybe there’s something in it that will feed our souls.

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: There’s beautiful resistance out there. I was just in Ireland and I met with this man, I’d say he was about 50 in his fifties, and he fought this pipeline in Ireland and they’re treating the people really bad and it’s Northern Ireland and it’s a whole complicated thing. But he brought his daughter with him to this gathering and she was fighting too. And I thought to myself, all right, not only are there Irish folks who understand what oppression is, who understand what the fight for liberation is and who understand what it is to protect a beautiful and sacred place, not only does the guy exists, but he has his daughter training up with him to protect their land, to protect who they are. I got a lot of respect for the Irish culture. I had to start learning about that long fight and understanding where their fight links with mine. And that’s just not something I grew up knowing about.

LAURA FLANDERS: What does that look like? And I’m just drawing on New York because I’m living there. But New York City right now dealing with a climate crisis, dealing with what is described as a migrant crisis, dealing with a policing crisis and who knows what else, A democracy crisis probably as well. What does it look like? And when I say that your evolving philosophy is connecting all these things, how so?

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: There are many dots here, but they all connect to liberation. Nobody’s free until everybody’s free. That’s what Fannie Lou Hamer said, and we’ve got to really understand that you and your solid bank account mean nothing. When the banks go down and the buildings are flooded, it means nothing but your humanity is what will save you. And we’ve got to understand how advance each other’s humanity by ensuring each other’s liberation, which means we’re going to have to confront systems of power and strategies of oppression. There’s an opportunity here to understand food and water and reproductive justice and prisons and education systems. There is an opportunity and a necessity to understand them all together, and that’s this moment. We call it a liberation horizon. If we choose to be our best selves in this moment, if we choose to work through fear in this moment, if we choose courage and each other, we can actually stop not just the oppression of my people, but the oppression of yours.

LAURA FLANDERS: As a northeast white person, I’m asking for your expertise, and I’m going to ask you to go back to where you began in this conversation and to that precious home place of yours and your people going back generations. We started by saying we are looking at the predicted destruction of places like that, specifically that place. How are you thinking about that? As you also say, we have to embrace migration. Are you embracing that loss?

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: I come from a culture in south Louisiana that it’s so rich. I have indigenous culture that I have access to from both Turtle Island now North America and Africa. And because the south Louisiana and the Mississippi River was what it was to the transatlantic slave trade, there are a lot of African traditions in this area that have withstood time. What I know is that when people come to a city like New Orleans and they see a jazz funeral or they see a second line march, they see fun, they see party, they see a reason to get free and to get in it, and that’s right. That’s exactly what it is. But what it also is, is ritual. It’s ritual that says life is precious and short. When it is gone, you must celebrate every aspect of it. And when it is here, you must just as a human, live it to the fullest as best you can. But loss is a part of life. Death is a part of a life cycle. You are not alone in a box. You are being ushered to your next transition, and there are people, in essence behind you dancing, a whole line, dancing behind you to make sure that your memory and who you are and what you brought is carried into the next iteration into the future. I find the role of witness an important one, and I am being called to be a witness and a storyteller about the truth so that everybody doesn’t have to go through this. So no, it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a lot of grief. My people’s land, no matter what we do, will be lost to the sea, to the rising seas. And I have to think about what that means for these trees, for these birds, for our cemeteries, for our houses. But also when we go to the next place that we go, what do we bring? How do we bring the best of who we are to that next place? Because the truth is, I didn’t start in south Louisiana. My bloodline doesn’t start there. People were moved around, people moved around naturally. So it’s not an easy process, but I come from culture and tradition that says there is a way to say goodbye, and that is what I choose to do, to say goodbye on my own terms from a place of power, not from a place of victimization and a lack of self-determination. I will be here until I die. And when I die and what I leave behind, we’ll go to the next place. But it will be the most beautiful parts of South Louisiana and the strongest parts of my bloodline.

LAURA FLANDERS: Thank you so much. It’s just always so heart wrenching to hear you and to be with you, so thank you.

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: Thank you for everything you do for the ground. Thank you for the stories you share. Thank you for the truth you tell. It’s important to us. So just, you’re an amazing, amazing griot for us. Thank you.

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, you can thank the Irish. That was the first place I went as a reporter, Northern Ireland. I learned most of the things I know that have been useful, so I’m so glad you got to go there and here’s some of those stories and it’s really been great hearing you today. So thank you.


LAURA FLANDERS: As the brutal Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues, you can only imagine the debates inside newsrooms. Do you go ahead with the program you had planned or suspend it for something more newsworthy instead? We had that conversation about today’s episode and ended up deciding that Colette Pichon Battle’s message is critically important for these times. What she has to say about grappling with history and our responsibilities as humans on an imperiled planet of dealing with loss and movement and change, what she has to say about taproots, those roots from which all other roots spring. It all seems like a message for this moment. Can we grapple with our past, reckon with our responsibilities? Can we relish and celebrate our time on this planet to make a difference, to do our part, to change? We, it seems to me as humans, are at a tipping point. Is it a point of transformation? You tell me. If you subscribe to our free podcast, you’ll get our full, uncut conversation, where I ask her, “Is the politics of transformation, any match for the meanness of legal strategy and war?” You’ll find her answer in that full conversation. Till the next time, stay kind, stay curious for “The Laura Flanders Show,” I’m Laura, thanks for joining me. For more on this episode and other forward-thinking content, subscribe to our free newsletter for updates, my commentaries and our full uncut conversations. We also have a podcast. It’s all at

Related Episodes, Articles and More

Head to our Patreon for a list of related episodes and articles. And find more related episodes in our Climate, Environment, & Energy playlist on Youtube.

Show Notes: Related Episodes, Articles and More

*Recommended books

“Winning the Green New Deal” by Varshini Prakash and Guido Girgenti, Get the Book Here

Note: “A Green New Deal for the Gulf South” is the title of Colette’s essay (*Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. The LF Show is an affiliate of and will receive a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.)

Related Laura Flanders Show Episodes:

• Ecology: The Infrastructure of the Future? featuring Colette Pichon Battle & Kate Orff, Watch / Download Podcast Full Uncut Interview with Colette Pichon Battle

 Before the Ground Runs Dry: BIPOC Media on the US Water Crisis Watch / Download Podcast

• Saket Soni: How Trafficked Workers Pulled Off “The Great Escape” Watch / Download Podcast

• Jane Fonda on the Future of Climate Justice Watch

Related Articles and Resources:

• Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy learn more here

• Colette Pichon Battle, “Climate change will displace millions. Here’s how we prepare,” TED Talk-2019. watch here

• New Orleans declares emergency over saltwater intrusion in drinking water, by Sara Sneath, The Guardian, 09.22.2023, Read Here

• Climate Change and Future Human Mobility, evidence summary. UN Migration-Global Data Institute. read, download the brief here

• Press Release: Weather-related disasters led to 43.1 million displacements of children over six years – UNICEF, read here

Featured ‘Music in the Middle’ of the Podcast:

“Do You Actually Care by LifeIsOne. from the Climate Soundtrack Project, produced by DJ’s for Climate Action, a global initiative harnessing the power of dance music and DJ culture to power climate solutions and generate action. Listen & Learn More Here


The Laura Flanders Show is committed to making our programming, website and social media as accessible as possible to everyone, including those with visual, hearing, cognitive and motor impairments. We’re constantly working towards improving the accessibility of our content to ensure we provide equal access to all. If you would like to request accessibility-related assistance, report any accessibility problems, or request any information in accessible alternative formats, please contact us.