While climate change itself will wreck indiscriminate havoc if left unmitigated, studies of American demographics show that its effects are unevenly divided. Already, the racial inequalities regarding the environment and air pollution affect millions of African-Americans’ health and quality of life:
- “In every one of the 44 major metropolitan areas in the U.S., Blacks are more likely than Whites to be exposed to higher air toxics concentrations”
- “”¦over seventy percent of African Americans [live] in counties in violation of federal air pollution standards”
- “African Americans are nearly three times as likely to be hospitalized or killed by asthma as Whites”
Recognizing the vested interest the African-American community thus has in transitioning to a clean energy economy, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has decided to actively join the energy futures fray: at the NAACP’s annual national conference this week, the NAACP passed a formal resolution pledging support for comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation.
As Van Jones noted over two years ago, the environmental movement too often looks and feels frustratingly homogenous. He called out the “eco-elite” that makes up the “face” of climate change as almost entirely lacking in “non-white and non-affluent Americans.” While individuals from all backgrounds stand to gain from a nation-wide transition to clean energy – both from the 1.7 million possible clean energy jobs to be spread throughout the economy and from avoiding the devastating physical effects of climate change – the African American community has traditionally been underrepresented at clean energy conference tables.
Meanwhile – as Van Jones predicted – the dirty fuel industry successfully organized the very people the clean energy movement seemed to leave behind. Case in point: the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) – bankrolled by the ever-conscientious ExxonMobil – recently backed a study haranguing Waxman-Markey with faulty analysis upon faulty analysis. (To reiterate: the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that Waxman-Markey would cost less than a postage stamp per day per household.)
The NAACP, unlike the NBCC, recognizes that “we have an opportunity to end energy policies that drain jobs from our economy, put our communities at risk of heat waves and flooding, and drag America into conflicts over energy resources overseas.” It recognizes that the clean energy economy envisioned by President Obama will provide pathways out of poverty for disadvantaged communities. It recognizes that the political realities in Congress today demand action and support for clean energy legislation from every available voice. It recognizes that to stay out of the debate is to lose it.
And the clean energy movement couldn’t have gained a better ally. The NAACP’s unmatched organizational infrastructure and storied experience seizing civil rights victories (as well as more contemporary victories) will be a huge asset as the clean energy pressure rises in the Senate. Simultaneously, the support of the NAACP adds a strong, substantive moral dimension to the clean energy economy. The NAACP has unquestionable authority when it comes to fighting for justice, equality, and the ethically correct: when science, politics, and economics fail to sway an individual, perhaps the NAACP’s ethical arguments can push him or her into our camp.
With the organizational and moral acumen of the NAACP behind it, clean energy legislation that will “build a new generation of good jobs, rebuild urban areas and support rural areas, and protect families, communities and public health, and help elevate our nation as a world leader” might just get passed.