In the United States, people of color care deeply about the environment. In no community is this sentiment higher than in the African American community. It’s not the image most of us have in mind when we think ‘environmentalist.’ The common perception is that that people of color do not understand or prioritize environmental issues and that the ‘real’ environmental constituency is white. It’s time for this perception to change.
A 2014 poll conducted by Green For All found that 68% of voters of color feel “climate change is an issue we need to be worried about right now, not something we can put off into the future.” A November 2015 survey released by Green For All and the Natural Resources Defense Council found strong and broad support among African-Americans for a transition to a more sustainable economy. Over 80% of African Americans surveyed support state action to develop clean energy plans. Furthermore, the Pew Research Center has gathered data on this issue since 2007. The data demonstrates that voters of color are more likely to support climate protection measures than white voters, even when controlling for political party. Each year, the data shows that fewer whites feel climate change should be a top priority than non-whites and in fact, the gap between whites and non-whites has widened over the years.
The Environmental Justice Movement defines the environment as “where we live, work and play.” This means that the environment is central to and has a major impact on our daily lives. It also means that it intersects with other social justice issues in the built environment.
We will not achieve social and environmental justice unless communities come together, understand how their diverse issues and perspectives intersect, and unite their efforts. To get to the other side, we’re going to need to build bridges.