How to Make the Climate Movement More Inclusive
Studies have found that people of color are more likely to be impacted by climate change, because they often live in areas that experience more pollution, such as near highways or next to power plants. However, racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the climate movement. As this Climate Progress article points out, the top-down, funder-driven approach of many large green groups can inadvertently shut out local advocates in affected communities.
As America becomes increasingly diverse, environmental groups will need to become more inclusive in order to stay relevant. A more collaborative, bottom-up approach is more likely to make local participants feel invested. For example, says environmental attorney Elizabeth Yeampierre, the well-resourced larger groups can help grassroots organizations reach their goals by providing data, analysis, or legal council.
Not only do non-whites suffer more from climate impacts – they also show higher levels of concern about climate change. Creating more diversity within the climate movement will help these communities raise their voices and demand solutions. This issue affects everyone, and we all have a role to play in solving it.
By Jeremy Deaton, guest contributor to ClimateProgress
From her office in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, nationally recognized environmental attorney Elizabeth Yeampierre looks out on a neighborhood cast from the melting pot of American life and built by Puerto Rican, Mexican, Dominican, Chinese and Indian immigrants. It’s an inspiring vision, but Yeampierre, who is herself of African and indigenous descent, is worried about the future of Sunset Park. Her neighbors, nearly one-third of whom live below the poverty line, work and dwell in the shadow of polluting factories, which Yeampierre believes are fueling all manner of respiratory illness.
In the coming years, climate change will multiply environmental risks, driving up the price of food while intensifying devastating storms. In the face of such threats, struggling families in neighborhoods like Sunset Park stand to suffer the most. Communities of color are among the most vulnerable to climate change and other environmental health threats in the United States — one study last year, for instance, found that non-white communities, on average, breathe more polluted air than white communities.
Yeampierre is determined to build a safer, healthier and more resilient community. It’s a goal shared by the larger environmental movement, but as she notes, little of the energy and resources of the biggest green groups trickle down to neighborhoods like hers. It’s because activists in these communities remain on the margins of the national environmental movement, which is dominated by white men and women from largely middle-class upbringings. Yeampierre believes that by sidelining local advocates in communities of color, these organizations dedicated to positive change are alienating potential supporters they will need to win larger fights on health and climate.
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