There comes a moment in history when society has both an opportunity and an obligation to act. As we finally acknowledge the wrongs committed against people of color, the time to act is now. And nowhere are those injustices more evident than as it pertains to environmental policies. Black and brown people are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards and suffer the associated health consequences as a result.
When President Biden signed the Justice 40 executive order, it was an affirmation that our nation’s clean energy transition has to benefit those negatively impacted the most by legacy pollution. This initiative explicitly earmarks 40% of investments for green energy, sustainable housing, training, workforce development, removal of hazardous waste, and clean water infrastructure for disadvantaged communities. And while it is a significant step, this initiative alone cannot make up for decades of environmental injustice. Federal and State agencies, private corporations, non-profits, and universities must unite to create lasting change. And individuals need to do their part and become advocates and allies in this fight.
Working together, we can create green communities where residents enjoy clean air and water, improved infrastructure, lower-cost energy solutions, and access to good-paying jobs in the clean energy sector. The HBCU Clean Energy Initiative offers a way for each of us to take action and turn this pivotal moment into a movement.
Educate Yourself on the Issues
Whether you’re a resident of a disadvantaged community or not, you have a responsibility to educate yourself on the existing inequities. The first step is to acknowledge the correlation between racism and environmental hazards and the current policies that perpetuate this injustice. For example, the vast majority of U.S. incinerators are located in the country’s most marginalized communities, according to research. In fact, 79% of the 73 incinerators in the U.S. are located in low-income communities or communities of color. And ten of the twelve incinerators that emit the most significant quantities of lead annually are located in environmental justice communities.
Elevate the Voices of Impacted Communities
Once you fully understand the issues, look at how non-profits and local agencies tackle the problem. Even within major environmental groups, the leadership tends to be middle-class and white, and their focus on ecological justice may not always include those in the most vulnerable communities. Get to know local social activists and determine how you can best support them. Whether you volunteer, donate, get involved politically, or amplify issues via social media, grass-roots efforts build awareness which can lead to sustainable change.
Hold Representatives Accountable
In addition to supporting environmental justice activists, stay informed about local environmental issues. When issues arise concerning permitting and land use plans and policy design and enforcement, advocate for these issues to be prioritized and the decision-making process to be transparent. Hold community representatives accountable for their environmental decisions.
Utilize Expertise from Local Universities
HBCUs are often located in and around disadvantaged communities. As a result, they feel the effects of environmental racism the same way that residents do. HBCUs can support ecological advocacy through their research capabilities, expertise in public policy making, or student involvement. The HBCU Clean Energy Initiative specifically focuses on bringing together HBCUs, community stakeholders, small businesses, and policymakers to accelerate the use of solar on campuses and in surrounding neighborhoods.
Vote with your Wallet
Before you spend your hard-earned money, investigate the environmental practices of corporations. While many companies have become increasingly transparent about their policies, that doesn’t mean that vulnerable communities don’t still get taken advantage of for economic gain. Spending your dollars locally instead of with big box stores will not only support your local economy and create jobs, but it also impacts the environment positively when goods don’t need to be shipped.
“When President Biden says he wants to build a better America…he means a more equitable America. A more inclusive America. A more just America. And we’ll build it with clean energy.” U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. True environmental justice means transferring decision-making power to the individuals and communities systemically impacted by environmental racism. Only then can there be true justice.
To find out more about how the HBCU Clean Energy Initiative accelerates climate justice click here.
To read more HBCU Clean Energy Initiative blogs, click here.