Closing the Climate Gap: Racial Inclusion and the President’s First Step

Anthony and his family walking through Rocky Mountain National Park.

“We need to act.”

That was the message President Obama delivered to all of us in his speech at Georgetown University yesterday. As an expectant father, I need no convincing.  I dream of family camping trips. Of showing my daughter the forests of the snowcapped Rockies. Walking with her along the cliffs of the Pacific coast and the sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast. I live in awe of the planet we call home.

But the blanket we are wrapping around our planet, warming it, will change all this. Intense forest fires. Rising sea levels. Drought.  Climate change will imperil my daughter’s future. And she will be luckier than some. We have a growing racial climate gap.

The American Public Health Association declared that climate change impacts our health, from higher asthma to potentially devastating pandemics.  Already, more people suffer from asthma today than in 2001. And Black and Native Americans have the highest rates. By calling for a reduction in carbon emissions, the President is helping to protect the health of over six million Americans living within three miles of a coal plant, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color.

People of color are also more likely to lose lives, homes, jobs and health care thanks to mega-storms like hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. To be sure, hurricanes don’t discriminate. But our investment and planning decisions sure do. We have, unintentionally, shut communities of color out of the renewable energy economy.

Across the country, community of color organizations, like the Climate Justice Alignment, are trying to change these realities.  They are innovating around clean jobs, renewable energy and resiliency plans to ensure their communities are not left vulnerable.  But they are often on their own – with limited resources and little government support.

To take action to save people and the planet, President Obama called for a cap on carbon from coal plants, more energy efficiency upgrades for federal buildings and rural communities, and building better infrastructure like transit and housing to help prepare communities that are most vulnerable to climate change.

It is a good start. And, as the President said, we don’t have to choose between the health of our children and the health of our economy.

But current policies that can calm our volatile climate are not reaching our fastest growing communities.  To build a safe and healthy future, the President needs to invest in the climate resiliency of all communities through better transit, inclusive planning and more community-scale renewable energy production.

  • The President wants to double our renewable energy production, and he will authorize the use of public lands for massive solar and wind projects.  That’s good, but community scale projects are better.  Communities of color, like Richmond California, where Black male unemployment rates reach 36%, can generate renewable energy, too, with the right help. Communities, no matter how poor, have churches, schools, nonprofit organizations and vacant land they can use to site replicable and scalable solar and wind power that can create quality, lasting jobs at a local level.

The President is stepping up to the plate and calling for action.  It is critical.  And these are excellent first steps towards building a more healthy economy, healthy planet and healthy future.

But this year, when my daughter will be born, over half of the births in the United States will be children of color.  By 2042, the United States will have no one numeric racial majority. Our diversity grows. Our opportunities to participate in innovation and problem solving must too. By paying attention to and supporting community of color leadership and innovation, the whole team can run the bases toward the home plate of a climate safe future.  And my daughter and her generation can enjoy the Earth’s beauty, rather than feel the weather’s rage.

Reposted from the Center for Social Inclusion Blog