Environmental History and Black History are Intertwined: Celebrating Black History Month
In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting Black environmentalists that have changed and continue to change the clean energy landscape for the better, key organizations that strive for environmental justice and representation of people of color in our industry, and facts about what things look like now as well as opportunities to improve for the future.
Black Leaders in Clean Energy
Discover the many Black business and governmental leaders who are on the forefront of clean energy and paving the way for a sustainable future. See a great list from The Green Program here!
Environmental Racism and Justice
“Environmental racism is a form of systemic racism whereby communities of color are disproportionately burdened with health hazards through policies and practices that force them to live in proximity to sources of toxic waste such as sewage works, mines, landfills, power stations, major roads and emitters of airborne particulate matter,” according to the World Economic Forum. “As a result, these communities suffer greater rates of health problems attendant on hazardous pollutants.”
Environmental justice is the response to environmental racism.
“Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies,” according to the U.S Department of Energy. “This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards; and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”
According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE)’s recent report, low-income, Black, Hispanic, and Native American households in the U.S. all face dramatically higher energy burdens—spending a greater portion of their income on energy bills—than the average household.
As the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) explains, high energy burdens are correlated with greater risk for respiratory diseases, increased stress and economic hardship, and can make it harder to move out of poverty. The median energy burden for Black households is 43% higher than for non-Hispanic white households.
According to ACEEE’s recent report, the many systemic policies and practices that have led to economic and/or social exclusion in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, the underinvestments, discriminative lending practices, and limited housing choices have limited BIPOC communities’ access to efficient and healthy housing.
Inefficient homes can have poor indoor air quality with mold and dust; too cold or too hot temperatures; increased pests; and overall increased risk of exposure to the elements and air pollution, making them more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Black communities are also 68% more likely to live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, and properties in close proximity to toxic facilities average 15% lower property values than those in other areas. Black children are also three times as likely to be admitted to the hospital for asthma attacks than white children.
While the clean energy industry continues to be a leader in the U.S. economy, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (NRDC), clean energy jobs filled by African Americans are substantially lagging compared to national workforce averages. The 2019 U.S. Energy & Employment Report by NASEO and Energy Futures Initiative, found that Black or African Americans made up 8% of the clean energy sector, while white workers made up 78%.
Also, according to the 2019 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study (by The Solar Foundation, which has since merged with IREC), Black or African American workers comprised 7.6% of the solar workforce.
Discover 10 important and impactful organizations doing great work on environmental equity or representation of people of color in the clean energy industry.
Check them out:
- Grid Alternatives
- American Association of Blacks in Energy
- Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice
- Energy Efficiency For All
- BlackOak Collective
- Donors of Color
- Partnership for Southern Equity
- Renewables Forward
- Emerald Cities Collaborative
Environmental history and Black history are intertwined. At IREC, during this month and every month, we believe that diversity, inclusion, and equity are critical to shaping and accelerating a clean energy future.