By Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Van Jones
As we celebrate Earth Day, it's a good time to remember that pollution and climate change aren't just environmental issues. They're justice issues.
Worldwide, people of color shoulder a heavier burden from toxic water, contaminated air, and dwindling natural resources. The same is true in America.
For example, African Americans living in Los Angeles are twice as likely to die in a heat wave than other city residents. As a result of climate change, urban heat waves are on the rise and the risk is growing. In cities across the country, poverty and inequality have created a perfect storm that traps black families in neighborhoods with few trees, little shade, and lack of access to air conditioning or cars that allow them to escape when severe weather hits.
It's not just the record heat. When disasters strike, no matter where, people with the fewest resources have a harder time preparing, escaping, and recovering. Just look at what happened with Hurricane Katrina or how the BP oil spill dramatically impacted Gulf Coast's Vietnamese-American community. When Superstorm Sandy hit, it wreaked havoc on New York's poor neighborhoods, including causing pervasive respiratory illness among low-income residents whose homes were struck by mold.
The pollution that's driving climate change also disproportionately affects communities of color. In fact, 78 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a toxic-spewing coal plant, which helps explain why one out of six black kids suffers from asthma -- compared with a national average of one in ten.
According to Hector Sanchez, chair of the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change, more than 80 percent of Latinos live in counties that violate at least one federal air-pollution law and Latino children are two and half times more likely to develop asthma than non-Latinos.
Given that communities of color pay the heaviest toll, it's not surprising that they consistently demonstrate the highest level of support for protecting clean air and fighting climate change. A 2014 Green For All poll showed that 68 percent of minority voters favor immediate action to address climate change. Last month, a Benenson Strategy Group poll showed that a whopping 85 percent of African Americans support global commitments on climate--the largest percentage of any demographic group. Climate change will likely be a major issue for our nation's 17.8 million black voters in the 2016 presidential election.
People of color need to play a larger role in the decision-making on climate and clean air. A recent report by the group Green 2.0 shows that "Despite increasing racial diversity in the United States, the racial composition in environmental organizations and agencies has not broken the 12% to 16% "green ceiling" that has been in place for decades."
We need equal protection from the worst environmental problems. We also need equal access to the best opportunities in the clean energy economy--including jobs in solar, wind, and energy efficiency. These kinds of jobs are growing--and they tend to pay more while requiring less formal education, which is a recipe for escaping poverty.
There are millions of black voters who are ready to act on climate; they just need access to the right opportunity. And once they're in the ring, big polluters won't stand a chance. Polluters know this--that's why they have begun a misinformation campaign claiming that clean energy hurts African American families.
The path forward is clear--and people of color are already leading the way.
In fact, they are largely responsible for one of the country's most cutting-edge--and wildly successful--efforts to slash pollution and poverty: California's cap and trade bill, which makes polluters pay for their climate garbage, and then directs the funds to hard-hit neighborhoods. A coalition of black, Latino, and Asian community groups rallied to advance the legislation in 2012, and it raised $262 million for disadvantaged communities in its first year alone. By 2020, the law will keep a projected 78 million metric tons of carbon pollution out of the air--the equivalent of taking one out of every fifteen cars in America off the road. And it never would have happened without the genius of the state's communities of color.
Climate solutions and pollution safeguards are about so much more than protecting the environment. They're about creating work, health and wealth. They're about righting the ship in neighborhoods that have suffered from decades of racism, divestment, oppression and poverty.
That's why groups like Green For All and members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) are working to connect more of our folks to the climate policy and clean energy decisions that affect our future. Because the more engaged we are, the better America's solutions to climate change will be.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee represents the East Bay and serves on the Budget and Appropriations Committees. Van Jones served as President Obama's Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and is the founder of Green For All.
By Rev. Dr. Ambrose F. Carroll, Co-founder of Green The Church and works with Green For All
As a child growing up in California, my parents would joke that we were from Hollywood. Our family was from Holly, Louisiana -- and Holly was down in the woods.
Thirty miles from Shreveport, Holly was where a cadre of ex-slaves purchased 100 acres of land in 1878 and planted their fields. They also planted the St. Mark Baptist Church, which is still serving black families more than a century later. These farmers -- my ancestors -- heeded the call of men like Booker T. Washington, who urged them to stay in the South, work hard, pay their taxes, and vote. Years later, despite their hard work and belief in the American dream, most of the families lost their farms to ruthless racists and the stock-market crash of 1929. The brutality of these two powerful forces pushed the family from land ownership to a new status of sharecroppers.
But deep connection to land and spirit were always a part of our family story -- just like it is a part of the story of almost every black family in America. It's this legacy of good stewardship of the planet that drove me to help start Green The Church. In partnership with Green For All, the Green The Church initiative taps into the power of the Black church as a force for social change, while bringing the benefits of the green economy directly to congregants.
Today, Green The Church has taken on a new urgency.
We're watching climate change unfold before our eyes -- bringing severe droughts, erratic weather, superstorms and disasters. And while climate change threatens people everywhere, communities of color are on the front lines.
Consider this: African Americans living in Los Angeles are nearly twice as likely to die in a heat wave, thanks to lack of access to air conditioning, shade and cars. And when disasters strike, it's people with the fewest resources who have a harder time preparing, escaping and recovering. Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy drove that point home.
Black communities aren't just hit first and worst by climate change; we also stand to gain enormously from solutions to global warming.
The Green The Church initiative aims to bring the benefits of sustainability directly to our communities. We've joined forces with the U.S. Green Building Council to help our buildings save energy and generate clean power.
Green The Church partners like Reverend Otis Moss of Trinity United in Chicago are already leading on this issue. Reverend Moss' church is powered by the sun -- and even produces enough solar energy to power the home of an elderly neighbor. Meanwhile, the congregation is helping keep pollution from dirty-coal plants out of the air and doing its part to combat climate change.
It's not just about helping churches save energy (and money). Green The Church taps into the unmatched power of the African-American church as a moral leader and a force for social change -- one with the potential to bring millions of new people into the climate movement. Polls show that African Americans consistently demonstrate the highest level of commitment to climate solutions. We need to harness that commitment -- and engaging the church is one of the best ways we can do it.
That's why Green For All is working to bring 1,000 black churches into Green The Church this year. Black churches -- and the millions of voters they represent -- could make the difference in whether we win or lose on climate.
Black churches are going green. It's exciting, but it shouldn't be surprising. Caring for the land and our neighbors is part of a legacy and responsibility that African-American families have upheld for decades -- in Holly, Louisiana, and in towns just like it all over America.
For more information about Green The Church--and to find out how to sign your church up, visit here.
Rev. Dr. Ambrose F. Carroll is co-founder of Green The Church and works with Green For All, a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy. Reverend Carroll currently serves as Senior Pastor at the Church by The Side of The Road in Berkeley, California.
Who wants to praise the Lord while suffocating in greenhouse gases and other pollutants? Not I — and certainly not the nation’s top church leaders. A thousand Black churches across the U.S. are teaming up with the U.S. Green Building Council and Green for All to combat climate change.
They call it the “Green the Church” movement.
When the Black church has got your back, you’re going places. “No major movement in this nation has been successful without power and leadership of black church,” said Ambrose Carroll, founder of Green The Church. And he’s right. From the civil war to the anti-lynching campaigns and the civil rights movement,success would have been elusive without Black church leadership.
“The black church has always joined hands with other faith traditions and stood on the front lines as they did in Selma, Alabama,,” Caroll added. “Likewise this must be true in the fight against climate change.”
The alliance will work on energy efficiency projects, urban farming initiatives and renewable energy. A lot of progress, Caroll said, can be made at the churches themselves. “We as a people may not own a lot of real estate in this nation, but we do own church buildings. All those buildings can be retrofitted for more efficiency energy use,” Carroll added.
Black churches and “go green” enthusiasts might seem like an unlikely pairing, but they do share one goal: Creating an inclusive, prosperous, stable society for everyone.
Bishop J.W. Macklin of Glad Tidings Church of God in Christ gives us insight as to why he’s joining the Green the Church movement:
“The question that must be asked is ‘who is our neighbor?’ We have to identify our neighbor as the one who shouts for us, who needs us. Right now communities affected most are those who are being hit by climate change. They’re calling for our help.”
Some congregants are already benefiting from the fight against climate change. Reverend Otis Moss of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ noted that he was able to provide free solar power to an elderly member of the church.
“We were saved by the Son and now we’re powered by the sun,” Moss said.
African American churches are coming together to tackle climate change and pollution. Green For All's new initiative, Green The Church, aims to reach 1,000 black churches.
It’s time for an ecology theology.
That’s the message of several influential African American church leaders who’ve joined environmental and civil rights activist Van Jones to preach the “green” gospel. Believing that fighting for climate change and protecting the environment is simply a part of good, Christian stewardship over the earth, these men and women of the cloth are looking to reach more than a thousand black churches through their “Green the Church” campaign.
During a press call on Wednesday, they discussed how African Americans are often left out on the discussion of the environment, yet Blacks are deeply affected – both in health and wealth – when it comes to our environment.
“We need equal protection from the worst of the pollution-based economy,” Jones said.
Jones, one of the founders of nonprofit Green For All and the former White House Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, said blacks are “hit first and worst by everything” when it comes to the effects of climate change and pollution – from devastating super storms like Hurricane Katrina to being more susceptible of dying from heat stroke in smog-filled cities like Los Angeles. He also said 68 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles downwind of a coal plant.
“That might be why 1-in-6 African American kids have asthma,” he said.
But it’s not just pollution that’s Jones and the pastors from “Green the Church” want to address. They also want more access to “green” jobs for African Americans, citing that green jobs in the energy sector – even those that don’t require a college education – pay 13 percent better than what’s typically available.
“A green economy can get us more work, better wealth and better health,” Jones said.
The ministers involved with Green the Church come from across denominations. Their goal, according to a release put out by the group, is to “bring the benefits of sustainability directly to Black communities by partnering with the U.S. Green Building Council on clean energy and energy savings.” Organizers want to “tap” into the prophetic power of the African American church and its historical role as being a “moral leader” and “a force for social change.”
“No major movement in this nation has been successful without the power and the leadership of the Black church,” said Green the Church founder Rev. Dr. Ambrose Carroll. “The Black church has always joined hands with other faith traditions and stood on the front lines, as they did in Selma.”
Rev. Carroll said we must do the same now with climate change.
“According to the book of Genesis we are stewards of the earth,” she said. “Today, let’s join in together and let’s green the Black Church.”
Leaders of the "Green The Church" movement launched a new effort this week to help 1,000 African-American congregations take action on climate change.
Green The Church, its organizers said, "aims to bring the benefits of sustainability directly to black communities." It includes a partnership between Green For All, the California-based environment and social justice organization, and the U.S. Green Building Council, which will work with churches on renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. It also seeks to "tap into the power of the African-American church as a moral leader and a force for social change," through education and outreach to millions of black church-goers across the country.
"The black church has always joined hands with other faith traditions and stood on the front lines, as they did on 'Bloody Sunday' in Selma 50 years ago," the Rev. Dr. Ambrose Carroll, a California-based pastor who founded Green The Church, said in a call with reporters Thursday. "So they must with climate change."
Carroll said a lot of progress, such as efficiency retrofits and urban farming initiatives, can be made at the churches themselves. "We may not own a lot of real estate, but we do own church buildings," he said.
The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, the senior pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, said his church has already purchased 27 acres of land on which to build a new urban farm, housing, and health, education, and wellness centers. "It will be green from the ground up," he said, adding that they want to promote the message that it's "not only, 'Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud,' but, 'Say it loud, I'm green and I'm proud.'"
Green For All said it found in recent polling that three-quarters of minority voters expressed an interest in climate change and wanted to know more about it. Sixty-eight percent said they thought climate change threatens their communities.
"We get hit first and worst by everything negative in the pollution-based economy," said Van Jones, the founder of Green For All and a current CNN contributor. Green The Church will advocate for "equal protection from the worst, and access to the best."
The group released this video to promote the effort:
Listen to Van's message of encouragement this MLK Day as we continue our fight to create a green economy Dr. King would be proud of!