From Black Enterprise: Blacks Getting a Seat at the Green Table

Authors: yvonne

Black Enterprise is a leading business magazine for African-Americans focused on wealth creation and financial empowerment.

Cross-posted from

Blacks Getting a Seat at the Green Table

14 Dec 2009

As world leaders from more than 190 countries meet in Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference to discuss ways to combat climate change and global warming, here in the U.S., President Barack Obama has championed the green revolution and energy policies as a means to get Americans working again and jumpstart the economy.

The principal cause of climate change is burning fossil fuels -- coal, oil and gas, and Obama has made numerous clean energy investments in the stimulus package. The White House has also pledged to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 to about 17% below 2005 levels and about 83% by 2050.

In addition to his efforts in the U.S., Obama has engaged world leaders on the issue of climate change, and plans to address the conference on Dec. 18. The U.S. has sent over a delegation to Copenhagen that includes Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson.

African American communities are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. One only needs to look at the devastating aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav for recent examples. Those vulnerabilities also stem from the lack of economic and institutional resources to avoid global warming’s worst effects, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which sent a delegation to Copenhagen. spoke with Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green for All, and Gina E. Wood, the director of policy and planning at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies -- both attending the conference-- about the summit, getting blacks more involved in a green energy economy, and shaping the climate change discussion. What’s your role -- and Green For All’s -- at the conference in Copenhagen?

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins: I will be acting as a delegate to the U.N. When we get to Copenhagen, our job will be threefold. The first is to participate in the activities. The second is really to bring the issues and concerns of communities of color and low-income communities to Copenhagen and then be able to translate those issues back to communities here. Last but not least is really to integrate those issues into the larger environmental and economic movement and to be able to make the case that some of the issues that are important to us such as food and land that are not currently part of the discussions should be part of the discussion in the future. Why is the conference important?

Gina E. Wood: All countries are vulnerable to climate change, but the poorest countries and poorest people within them are most vulnerable. In this decade alone, over 3 billion people in developing countries could be affected by climate-related disasters. People in developing countries are affected at 20 times the rate of those in developed countries. Leaders from around the world will gather in Copenhagen to craft a fair, ambitious, and binding international agreement to solve climate change. With large conferences such as COP-15, I am always skeptical about results. How will the scores of leaders reach a consensus on a framework agreement on global warming?

Ellis-Lamkins: I think that Copenhagen is a stage. It is not the place that it will happen. So, for us, the first thing that’s important is just that people across the globe realize that there are people in the United States who understand that we share issues. It’s just the ability to say that while all of our communities may not call it global warming, we understand Katrina, we understand lack of resources, we understand the need to reuse things, and we understand that we’re at a moment of crisis. What are some of the things that the average African American household can do to help combat climate change?

Ellis-Lamkins: There are two things that they can do. One is we have an ability to be able to change our own consumption. If we could just follow the lessons that our grandmothers had taught us, we wouldn’t have to do anything more, right? If we could walk when we didn’t need to drive. If we could reuse things that could be reused. There are some basic things we could do just in our own changes in consumption. But perhaps the thing that is as not if much more critical is our ability to advocate for change in our communities.

I think the part that’s been missing is that it isn’t that African Americans haven’t been environmentalists, we didn’t call our self that. But I just think our grandparents and parents didn’t belong to necessarily the Sierra Club. But what they did is they taught us about the value of reusing … just the ability to understand that everything had a purpose and that you didn’t have to throw things away. Do you think minority communities have been excluded from the green debate?

Ellis-Lamkins: I think we could be included more. When you’re asking to sit at someone else’s table, they get to decide where you sit. The question for us is really to find the table that we sit at.

Wood: My first reaction is yes, to a large extent. I think we have been excluded, but I think we’re now beginning to be engaged. In the past, historically, yes we’ve been excluded. But I think now there’s a real conscious effort to include people of color in these discussions. How do different organizations or individuals go about doing that? To not wait for someone to say, ‘Oh, here you go. Now you get to be part of the discussion and you get to part of the solution instead of being on the sidelines.’ How does that happen?

Ellis-Lamkins: My hope is that as organizations begin to see change happen through partnership in this arena that that’s what will inspire people to do more.

Wood: You know, individually there are several things that people can do just in terms of their home and personal lifestyles. Then, beyond that, I mean getting involved in their community. I mean doing a lot of community organizing and community mobilization.

The National Urban League recently held a green jobs summit, and last week the White House hosted a jobs summit. What concrete plans do you see emerging that would present more green job options for African Americans?

Ellis-Lamkins: We have to realize is that green jobs aren’t naturally good jobs, and they don’t create opportunity on their own. So, what we have to do is first to be able to advocate for where investment is made first, right? When the government is going to invest $5 billion in weatherizing public housing, where are the places we want to see that investment? How do we make sure that people that live in those communities work on those projects, is one piece.

Wood: I think part of the challenge now is that there’s so many different definitions that people are using with regard to green jobs that it’s almost impossible to generate a reliable count in terms of how many green jobs there really are in America today. Some of the things that we’ve been able to identify are that they pay more by 10%-20%; really depending on the definition of the job.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins will be blogging for from Copenhagen Tuesday and Friday.

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