Last month, the Alliance for Climate Protection, an organization headed by former vice president Al Gore, and Environmental Justice and Climate Change (EJCC), an advocacy group, formed an initiative to enlist historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to help encourage blacks to go green.
According to the EJCC study, “A Climate of Change: African Americans, Global Warming, and a Just Climate Policy in the U.S.,” while blacks are just 13% of the U.S. population and on average emit 20% less greenhouse gases than non-Hispanic whites, they are more vulnerable to its effects. Also, African Americans are 79% more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution poses the greatest health danger, says Robert D. Bullard, director of Clark Atlanta University’s Environmental Justice Resource Center.
The EJCC trains HBCU students to promote the greening of university grounds, increase support for climate justice, and encourage college presidents to sign on to a Presidents Climate Commitment. “We are also looking to have Al Gore host a virtual town hall on college and university campuses across the country, many of which will be HBCUs,” says Giselle Berry, Alliance spokesperson.
Among the six HBCUs participating are Spelman College, Clark Atlanta, and Morris Brown College. “It is important for Spelman to be part of the initiative, to participate, to exchange opinions, and even to divulgate the findings of our own research and teaching initiatives,” explains T. Galvao, interim chair of the environmental science and studies program at Spelman.
“Black colleges, along with the church, have always been at the forefront for social justice and change within the black community,” notes Irv Sheffey, environmental justice organizer for the Sierra Club, America’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. “Communities of color, as evidenced by [Hurricane] Katrina’s aftermath, are disproportionately impacted by climate change, and our colleges are the natural grounds for developing the leaders we need.”
HBCUs are often located in areas where environmental issues are at the forefront, says Felicia Davis of the Just Environment/EJCC Advisory Board. “Black colleges are located within the black community and can become hubs for helping black America to lead the way to a green energy future,” she says. The HBCU participation is also key, as HBCUs traditionally offer programs in engineering and architecture, which Nia Robinson, EJCC director, says are fields that go hand-in-hand with the green movement. “As we are switching over to a green energy economy, HBCUs should be at the forefront of greening programs, departments, and curriculum so that students have an opportunity for careers in this market and become investors, not just consumers, in green technology,” she explains.
The EJCC aims to spark student interest through entertainers promoting the initiative. Rapper Coolio and jazz saxophonist Jarez have signed on to help attract the college crowd. “Solving the climate crisis impacts all of us, and every one of us should do what we can to make sure elected officials act quickly to change to clean energy,” Coolio says. “On a personal level, I have six kids, and their future depends on what