Book Review: Before the Streetlights Come on: Black America’s Urgent Call for Climate Solutions

Book Cover Images image of Before the Streetlights Come on: Black America’s Urgent Call for Climate Solutions

by Heather McTeer Toney

    Publication Date: Apr 18, 2023
    List Price: $24.99
    Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
    Classification: Nonfiction
    ISBN13: 9781506478623
    Imprint: Broadleaf Books
    Publisher: 1517 Media
    Parent Company: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

    Read a Description of Before the Streetlights Come on: Black America’s Urgent Call for Climate Solutions

    Book Reviewed by Robert Fleming

    As I received Heather McTeer Toney’s new book on climate solutions, I had also read an article stating the Earth’s ability to sustain human life was endangered, with the planet being consumed by toxic forces mile by mile. This research compiled by the University of Copenhagen and recently featured by Smithsonian Magazine covers the same issues of climate decline, including climate change, biodiversity, freshwater availability land use, and radioactive waste.

    As a climate activist, Toney shrinks the environmental dilemma back from the global aspect to an uncomfortable local level in her book Before the Streetlights Come On: Black America’s Urgent Call for Climate Solutions. She blends two sinister additives—the wicked collection of social justice themes and situations of grim environmental injustice into the daily lives of the poor and disenfranchised. Armed with sharp wit and general intellectual knowledge of legal concerns, environmental law, and municipal regulations, Toney is an attorney, public speaker, writer, and an enemy of all carbon footprints. Some readers may remember her as the first Black, first female, and youngest mayor of Greenville, Mississippi. National attention came when she was appointed by President Obama as a regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

    So why should Black folks talk about climate change rather than critical issues in the community? In Chapter One, Toney states she has asked herself this numerous times. “Why talk climate in an era of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor; with BBQ Beckys and Karens monitoring Black behavior; amid pandemics like COVID-19; while school shootings and blatant voter suppression continue unabated?”

    In response, she answers, “Climate change is so much about our homes, families and loved ones that we need to hurry up and fix it so that we can all get home safely.…When I think about climate change in relation to Black life, I relate it to streetlights.”

    Many young Black children and teens answered the call of the streetlights. They recognized that “the lights” in the book’s title meant all play activities should be ended. Come in the house, children! They also knew all streetlights came in various shapes and sizes. Following when the streetlights came on, every child and teen examined everything that was out of the box, every sin they secretly committed. Nothing but the streetlight coming on could lead to parental scrutiny. What did you do, child?

    Very few voices can get beyond the headlines, the list of bad news such as food insecurity, job security, gun violence, and institutional racism. Toney also points out that “…as African Americans, we are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. Black people make up 13 percent of the US population but breathe 40 percent more dirty air than our white counterparts. We live in areas four times as likely to be impacted by hurricanes, tornados, and floods, and we are twice as likely to be hospitalized or die from climate-related health disparities.”

    Indeed, the author shows the negative toll of climate change and how it affects us differently. The advocates of the majority-white and minority-led Black and Brown movements respond in various ways, from lame moderation to fresh outrage. Despite pressures from her personal life, Toney remains loyal to her cause, and nothing can steer her from her mission to raise awareness about the connection of climate change and its impact on Black lives. She assumes the head of her household, weathering such crises as her husband being cruelly pulled by cops, her son labelled as aggressive, and her bullied daughter attending an elite school. Two of her three children suffer with asthma, along with her grandma from COPD. However, nothing can steer Toney from her mission.

    As a scientific narrative, Toney’s book explains global warming and greenhouse gases, making the list of the bad chemicals such as carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and methane. It is the methane that is taking a tragic toll on Earth, causing the planet to heat up in melting glaciers, extreme weather, and rises in sea levels. She also notes that methane is a culprit in floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and heat waves.

    Between the general information of the climate crisis, Toney recounts harsh bits of history, noting the Middle Passage voyages in their eighty days caused inflammation of the lungs, which led to 50 percent of the slaves’ deaths. She timed out the environmental factors and climate fluctuations, dating back to 1730, that increased the mortality of the slave trade. Blacks have always been on the short end of American health progress.

    What does Toney want us to do? Other than buy an electric car or install a set of solar panels on their home, she wants her readers to get involved in any social justice cause influencing their lives. Discuss these issues with your family, especially young people. Vote for candidates who support strong climate legislation. Go to meetings where climate issues are discussed with the public service commissioner and neighbors. Get a home generator for backup power for your home and business. Support HBCUs, including Florida A&M, Tuskegee University, and Alcorn State University. These schools teach the mechanics of natural, organic farming. Plant trees. Assist and volunteer with the teachers and police during the hot summer months.

    Toney is a realist, and she knows what challenges are facing the country and her readers. “Despite the trauma of our history, struggle, separation, abuse, and neglect, we have purpose and power for the world that has yet to be fully embraced. Who knows? It could be for such a time as this. What we do know is that without our engagement to secure justice, participation with ideas for innovation and creativity for influence, the survival of all people is at risk. A ‘little soul’ may be just what the entire world needs in order to see hope and resiliency for a strong climate future ahead.”

    This book by Toney is essential reading. She gives us a panoramic view, a total global glimpse, and then her focus goes locally to the block where you live. Hers is a serious call-to-arms, a clarion warning, to take emergency action to lessen the climate threat. This is a thought-provoking, controversial work that will keep you up nights.

    Read Broadleaf Books’s description of Before the Streetlights Come on: Black America’s Urgent Call for Climate Solutions.

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