United We Stand

Inclusion and Diversity in the Climate Fight

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We, as a nation, must face the reality that no issue can exist separate and apart from the reality of inequality in the United States. The climate crisis and environmental issues are no exception.

Low-income communities and people of color often bear the heaviest human costs of the climate crisis, from being exposed to toxic air or water and having polluting power plants sited in their neighborhoods without their consent to being more susceptible to the impacts of extreme weather, heat waves and drought. Native peoples also find themselves stripped of rights to their ancestral lands.

While they are the most vulnerable to its impacts, historically marginalized people have often been the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate crisis. Additionally, these communities tend to have little to no access to voice their concerns, advocate for substantive policy changes, or benefit from the implementation of clean energy solutions.

So what can we do about such a monumental problem affecting millions of people around the world?

First, we must educate ourselves and our communities. We must frame the crisis in terms of addressing the range of climate justice issues. Climate change is a global ethical dilemma, and in order to solve it, we must examine the intersectionality between climate impacts and environmental, economic, social and racial injustices.

If we want to create a level playing field for people of every race and creed, addressing injustice is critical to breaking a vicious cycle of disenfranchisement. Activists and organizers must first seek to understand and then effectively communicate to our leaders, policymakers and peers how the climate crisis intensifies and exacerbates deeply ingrained societal disparities.

As Climate Reality Leaders trained by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, we have both committed to spreading awareness of the climate crisis and its relationship with institutionalized oppression. By mentoring trainees at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Bellevue, Washington this past June and giving presentations and convening allies in our local communities, we work to raise awareness of climate justice and mobilize action.

Secondly, it is imperative to welcome and integrate diverse voices into the climate justice movement. A very small percentage of people of color are employed by environmental organizations, and even fewer hold leadership positions. A 2014 University of Michigan study showed that people of color accounted for less than 16 percent of the boards and general staff of environmental organizations.

To adequately address disparities caused by the climate crisis, that must change. Belinda Chin is a cofounder of the Seattle Chapter of Environmental Professionals of Color, which aspires to change the paradigm of environmental leadership to be more inclusive, equitable and culturally relevant. With more than 100 million people of color living in the United States, it is essential to build coalitions that diversify the climate movement, strengthen the call for climate action and elevate public consciousness of this problem.

Finally, marginalized communities and allies must work collaboratively to dismantle systems of racism and oppression and unite around building broad consensus that climate action is a moral and ethical imperative.

As Climate Reality Leaders, we are trained in grassroots organizing tactics and often partner with other organizations and groups to bolster action. In 2011, Jill MacIntyre Witt joined with the indigenous Lummi Nation to shut down construction of the Gateway Pacific Terminal. The diversity of voices advocating for no coal exports was intentional and ultimately successful because of the various viewpoints and perspectives represented.

Today, the federal government’s inaction and willful ignorance of the climate crisis will mean higher temperatures, rising sea levels and more natural disasters. It will also sow more oppression and inequality within marginalized communities, leaving the dignity and basic human rights of our neighbors here in the United States and around the world at risk.

It’s critical to work together with marginalized and vulnerable communities without a voice both locally and globally. Stand with us for truth, justice and equality and join the movement for climate justice.

Start by seeing Vice President Al Gore’s latest film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. The film shares the story of his tireless work leading up to the Paris Agreement at 2015’s COP21 Summit and stresses the importance of urging governments to take bolder action on climate change. We must use our voice, choice and vote to stand up for what is right to solve the climate crisis for not only ourselves, but also for the marginalized people who feel its impacts so strongly.

Join local Climate Reality Leaders at 7:30pm Fri., Aug. 4 at the Pickford Cinema for a reception followed by a screening of the film. We will join together in conversation with cookies, cake and coffee and have a post-film discussion/Q&A on climate justice and local activism. We hope to see you there.

Belinda Chin is a Climate Reality Leader and the recreation program coordinator for Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Urban Food Systems Program. She is also a co-founder of the Seattle Chapter of Environmental Professionals of Color, a program of the Center for Diversity and the Environment.

Jill MacIntyre Witt is a Climate Reality Leader and climate justice advocate. She released the Climate Justice Field Manual at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training on June 27 in Bellevue.

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