The Black community needs to be more involved as the U.S. continues debating its energy future, and more African Americans need to recognize the urgency — and the potential rewards — of a green economy with green jobs. That is the message coming from national commentators and a recent green-movement rally on Minneapolis’ North Side.
“This is not an issue that we can sit on the sidelines and let someone else do the business, because there is too much at stake,” notes American Association of Blacks in Energy President and COO Frank Stewart, who also is a member of the Washington, D.C.-based Commission to Engage African Americans on Climate Change (CEAC), which was created in July.
CEAC released a report this summer that described the disproportionate impacts of climate change on Blacks, including the “heat island effect” — high temperatures are expected to be more extreme in urban areas where Blacks are more than twice as likely to live than Whites, and there is a correlation between lower numbers of air conditioning units in Black households and higher heat-related mortality in major U.S. cities.
Blacks spend an estimated 25 percent more of their income on energy than the national average, the CEAC report continued. As a result, gas prices and heating costs “hit harder in our pocketbooks than it hits others’ pocketbooks,” adds Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, the first Black in Texas history to be elected to a statewide post.
Too often, such issues as health care and education get more attention from Blacks, “so we really haven’t dealt with the whole energy piece,” Renee Amoore, president of the Pennsylvania-based Amoore Group, adds. “It should be among the top three [issues of concern].
“The bottom line is that [high] fuel costs affect everything, because we have everything imported into our community. If you think of everything that is imported into our community, then you know how important it is,” Amoore says.
Others, meanwhile, propose that a switch to a “green economy” might be the answer to U.S. energy concerns.
A report released in September by the Center for American Progress and the Political Economy Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst showed that at least two million construction and manufacturing jobs over two years can be created in the U.S. through a green economic recovery program, which would include retrofitting existing homes and buildings to make them more energy efficient.
Green For All founder-president Van Jones, who helped lobby for the Green Jobs Act that Congress passed in 2007, has been a longtime green advocate. Speaking recently in Austin, Texas, Jones suggested, “The next president of the United States should say, we are going to have a World War II-level mobilization, a crash program to weatherize and solarize America, put up millions of solar panels on every surface, [and] we can find and put people to work doing it.
“We have to build wind farms,” continued Jones, who was previously profiled in the MSR (July 10). “We have to build wave farms, solar farms, weatherize buildings. This is the movement that will create new work, new wealth, new health, and new investments.”
The green movement also is beginning to pick up steam in Minnesota, but only a handful of Blacks attended a September 27 “Green Jobs” rally at the Minneapolis Urban League’s Northside headquarters.
“I don’t see people of color participating [in such events],” noted Michael Haynes of Minneapolis, a board member of Environmental Justice Advocates for Minnesota (EJAM), which sponsored the event. “I am typically the only person in the room voicing our concerns.”
“We are one of the communities that are most impacted by environmental injustice,” claims Camille Cyprian of St. Paul. She supports the green movement because “green jobs offer livable wages and a way to take care of the earth. We do have a lot more work to do in raising awareness.”
It’s not about “hugging trees,” a frequent disparagement of such environmental rallies, said National Association of Minority Contractors Executive Director Bobby Champion, who spoke to the audience. “We have to do a better job making sure our community understands environmental issues and how they affect them as well,” he said, “so that they will feel enthusiastic and energized to come out to a rally like this.”
“We are looking for green jobs for the Northside for Northsiders,” says EJAM spokesperson Karen Monahan, whose office is located at the Urban League. “This is a community that needs to build hope. We figure that one way to bring hope back into the community is a good, green job.”
Rachel Dykoski, a wife and mother, said that she would like to see a local green economy in place for her two daughters, now ages six and seven, when they grow up, which includes establishing “a community-based compost program in the city” and recycling of leftover food scraps. “We have to utilize the resources we have,” she added.
Finally, the U.S. can’t let the current financial crisis put the energy crisis on the backburner. “They see it as very, very important,” Stewart said of the Congressional Black Caucus, who he recently met with, adding that both presidential candidates “are wrestling with it right now. It is going to be a tough set of decisions [for whoever is elected].”
“It’s not just about the green economy or green jobs,” noted Haynes. “It’s about changing how we as a people start to view ourselves, our neighborhood, our community and our children.”
Van Jones’ entire speech can be read at www.alternet.org/story/99550. Information from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and the Political Economy Research Institute was used for this article.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org