It’s time to acknowledge that people impacted by global warming include the poor and disenfranchised, and they need a stake in policy decisions.
When you imagine a Seattle environmentalist, chances are it’s some variation on the stereotypical theme of fleece-clad hiker. But amid a summer so dry that half our state is on fire, it’s hard not to feel that — increasingly — everyone has a stake in the health of our planet.
As Americans prepare to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and U.N. members gear up for the Climate Change Conference this fall, it may be time to acknowledge that those impacted by global warming are far more diverse than our theoretical outdoorsman implies.
“We’re wanting to make sure that low-income communities and communities of color are involved in shaping this [climate] policy from the get-go,” says Jill Mangaliman, executive director of Got Green, a Seattle-based environmental-justice organization.
“Trouble the Water” screening
A documentary about Hurricane Katrina will be screened from 6-9 p.m. Saturday at The Collaboratory, 5623 Rainier Ave. S.
To help ensure that inclusion, Got Green has joined forces with dozens of local groups, from immigrant-rights organizations to the Seattle King County NAACP, to form the group Communities of Color for Climate Justice.
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It’s a coalition devoted to linking social and economic-justice issues with climate change through lobbying, events and surveys that help identify the climate-change-related priorities of diverse communities.
But people of color and low-income communities often don’t see themselves represented in the environmental movement, says Ellicott Dandy, an economic and environmental-justice advocate.
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“I think there’s a certain amount of elitism that comes with having ownership over the kinds of scientific backing that we need to do something about this [climate change] problem,” says Dandy, who works with OneAmerica, a member of the coalition. “There’s a certain amount of white affluence that describes a lot of the people who fit that profile.”
Beyond elitism, many activists in communities of color and low-income areas feel they have to prioritize immediate social and economic issues — like racism and unemployment — over environmental issues.
“My first involvement with volunteering and organizing was not around climate change, it was around social-justice issues and definitely addressing … incarceration and economic disparities,” says Rashad Barber, who volunteers with the Climate Justice coalition.
Barber says working with the coalition has encouraged him to connect some of those issues of disparity with climate change, especially in his own life.
He grew up in Denver and spent the first half of his childhood in what he describes as the “inner city,” where many of his relatives suffered from asthma. When he moved to the suburbs later on, he noticed fewer people suffered from respiratory problems. Lately, he’s wondered if his neighborhood’s proximity to manufacturing (“everything from dog food to rubber”) might have contributed to his family’s health problems.
“Climate change affects all of us,” says Barber, who helped Got Green conduct a recent survey in South Seattle that explores climate-change concerns in the community. “It’s something we’re all a part of.”
Those environmental connections can be felt in terms of employment, says Mangaliman, who points out that many of our country’s “dirtiest” jobs — those involving resource extraction and heavy pollution — are held by low-income workers and people of color.
There’s also a housing connection, especially in a region where poor communities are pushed further outside of the city center due to rising rents. It’s a trend that increases carbon-heavy, long-distance commutes and could keep communities from resources and isolated from help in the case of a weather emergency, such as a heat wave.
To help encourage communities to continue to make these climate-change connections, and to honor the Hurricane Katrina anniversary, the coalition is hosting a free movie showing of “Trouble the Water,” a documentary about the storm. They also plan to host a larger summit on climate change this fall.
Still not convinced that southern storms and U.N. debates relate to Seattle’s housing crisis? No issue exists in a vacuum argue advocates.
“When we talk about transit, we’re also talking about housing and jobs, when we talk about the environment we’re not just talking about climate change we’re talking about displacement,” says Mangaliman. “All of these issues are linked …”
And so are we.