Our environmental struggle: An open letter to black America

Authors: Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

Originally posted on The Grio

Dear Friends:

Where is the asthma rate higher: Colorado Springs or Atlanta?

I’m sure you guessed right—Atlanta.

Why did you guess that? Probably because the majority of Atlanta is black, and our community is three times more likely to die from asthma than the white population.

Our chances of living near hazardous industrial pollution sites are 80 percent greater than white Americans, according to 2005 data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Our children are breathing in dirtier air on the way to school. Our grandparents are more likely to drink contaminated tap water from their faucets.Our community is disproportionately exposed to toxic conditions.

But, let me ask another question: Is the asthma rate higher in Detroit or Knoxville?

Surprisingly to some, it’s Knoxville, which is mostly white.

The environmental struggle isn’t a black issue; it’s an economic issue, devastating low-income communities of all races and backgrounds.

Put simply: If you’re poor, you are at greater risk because pollution and poverty are intricately linked. The sad truth is that living in underserved communities has come to mean accepting exposure to potentially deadly environmental hazards.

So while others define the climate crisis by the melting glaciers and desert droughts abroad, we must focus on the crisis that has impacted generations of families living in poverty here at home.

It would take a once-in-a-generation opportunity to break this vicious cycle. Thankfully, we have such an opportunity right now: the green economy.

The world’s exploitation of finite natural resources makes America’s transition to a clean energy economy inevitable: as oil and coal reserves drop, prices will skyrocket, until, eventually, they’re depleted entirely.

The question Americans must ask themselves is do we want to establish ourselves as leaders of this exciting new sector by getting involved right now, or do we want to drag our feet and fall behind the rest of the world?

We at Green For All believe that we should take meaningful action now, and do it right so that this new wave of growth and innovation involves all Americans.

What does this mean for the underserved? It means they will finally have a path to the middle class. Think about all the opportunities.

Repairing America’s water infrastructure; retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient; and manufacturing green products are just some of the new initiatives that will create millions of new, good-paying jobs.

Green For All wants these jobs to be available to all communities. To accomplish this goal, we are guided by the three E’s — engagement, education and empowerment.

We engage with a variety of partners across the country to identify areas where we can enhance environmental conditions, while creating jobs for all who want them.

We educate stakeholders — from workers to entrepreneurs — so that they have the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century economy.

And, through various initiatives, we empower talented local leaders with the resources they need to shape a green future for their neighborhoods.

Obviously, this is just a quick snapshot into Green For All. I look forward to sharing more about the organization, its work and the talented team behind it in future blogs.

I also encourage you to get involved in our effort to finally address the great challenges facing our economy and environment.

Together, we can demand that our children have quality air to breathe in on their way to school.

Together, we can create jobs that lift people out of poverty.

Together, we can ensure that the long march toward environmental and economic equality continues.

To achieve these goals for tomorrow, we must get started today.

Let’s get to work.

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