“The Faces of Climate Change” is the theme of Earth Day this year. And it’s fitting given the impact that climate change had in 2012 for many of us.
2012 proved loud and clear that climate change knows no boundaries – it affects all of us. And climate change does not work in isolation; it is a challenge in every aspect of our lives. It threatens the viability of our food system, as our farmers must deal with extreme droughts or floods that wipe out our fruits and vegetables. It destroys our homes as we witnessed in the unprecedented forest fires in Colorado. And it destroys our infrastructure – from broadband and transit lines to the power grid – as we witnessed with the raw power unleashed by Superstorm Sandy last November.
Yet, while we are all impacted, communities of color are often hardest hit. Black residents in Los Angeles, for example, are twice as likely to die from heat waves as Whites. And people of color often live nearest to the pollution sources that are root causes of climate change. For instance, a recent NAACP report found that people of color are disproportionately located within three miles of coal plants.
So it should come as no surprise that these same communities are at the forefront of the fight against climate change. In recognition of the many “Faces of Climate Change”, we want to celebrate some of the “Communities of Climate Change” that have been leading the charge against the biggest threat to Mother Earth.
- Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), a Latino-led grassroots organization in Chicago, is tackling climate change not only by working to shut down dirty coal plants that lead to “42 premature deaths, 66 heart attacks and 720 asthma attacks each year” but also by promoting sustainable solutions that create jobs and opportunities through investing in public transportation, building local food hubs and creating community-driven clean energy.
- The Black Mesa Water Coalition, a tribal community in Arizona, has long suffered from the pollution of the Navajo Generating Power Plant, which is responsible for “16 premature deaths, 25 heart attacks, 300 asthma attacks, and 15 asthma emergency room visits each year, with total annual health costs of over $127 million.” They are fighting to not only shut down this plant, but to replace it with a large-scale solar project owned and operated by community members, providing good jobs while decreasing emissions.
- The Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) is working with Asian and Black communities in Richmond, California, to tackle pollution from the nearby Chevron oil refineries. But they are also working to establish community-scale power generation that will decrease the reliance on dirty energy, create quality jobs and build the political economy of Richmond’s residents.
- Groups in Detroit, Michigan, are confronting the threats of climate change in multiple ways. The Detroit Black Food Security Network and the Detroit Food Policy Council are creating local food hubs to grow and distribute local, healthy foods, which will reduce reliance on long distance transportation and the use of fertilizer – two critical contributors to climate change. The Greendoor Initiative, Sierra Club EJ, and Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC) have led efforts to make Detroit a Zero Waste community. They have been fighting waste incineration, which creates one-third more CO2 emissions than coal and twice as much as oil, and promoting alternative solutions like community-owned recycling, weatherization and renewable energy projects.
While the solutions and actions may look different, they all have one thing in common, what we at the Center for Social Inclusion call community-scale solutions. These are not “one-size-fits all” models. Instead they respond to community needs and build on community assets.
What makes these models so critical are the impacts on the community:
- Local, sustainable, quality jobs for residents;
- Entrepreneurship and asset creation;
- Health improvements;
- Stronger political economy of marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, by building their power, value and agency in the economy and in public policy.
So today on Earth Day, let us honor the work of these “Communities of Climate Change.” And let’s join them in advocating for policies at the federal, state and local level that ensure inclusive planning and provide public dollars to advance and replicate the positive change happening in communities all around us.