The numbers are surprising: each year, changes to the Earth’s climate contribute to at least 5 million illnesses and more than 150,000 deaths resulting from extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes and excess heat.
Pointing this out was a legislative committee in the House of Representatives that recently acknowledged a direct connection between the environment and public health. The action by the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming underscores that environmental concerns are often a matter of life or death. Nevertheless, activists say, black people still seem to be largely absent from the environmental movement.
The perception is that black people do not consider the environment as important compared with other everyday challenges, says Norris McDonald, president of the African American Environmentalist Association, a Fort Washington, Maryland-based organization that is working to change this stigma. But in addition to health gains, becoming involved in eco-friendly causes has financial implications. “Efforts to clean up the environment will create entrepreneurial and job opportunities,” says Van Jones, president of Oakland, California-based Green For All, an organization that advocates “green-collar” or environmentally friendly jobs. So, regardless of the reason, getting involved in the green movement can prove positive. Here are a few ways to start:
Get educated. What environmental efforts are underway within your community? The U.S. Department of State details government-sponsored environmental initiatives, while the Environmental Protection Agency provides background and progress reports on initiative environmental efforts. And for a historical perspective, read To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History edited by Dianne D. Glave and Mark Stoll (University of Pittsburgh Press; $24.95).
Think local. “Take the time and participate in public hearings if it’s something that affects your community,” McDonald says. Also, identify the decision-making leaders in your area that share the same sentiments. For example, The Pew Center on Global Climate Change (www.pew climate.org) brings together business leaders, policymakers, scientists, and other experts to discuss ways to protect the climate while sustaining economic growth.
Walk your talk. What actions can you take now in your own life such as driving a hybrid car, recycling, and using environmentally friendly household products? Check out these books: 365 Ways to Live Green: Your Everyday Guide to Saving the Environment by Diane Gow McDilda (Adams Media Corp.; $7.95); The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Living by Trish Riley (Penguin Group; $16.95); and The Go Green East Harlem Cookbook edited by Scott M. Stringer (Jones Books; $17.95).
Mobilize. Organizations such as the African American Environmentalist Association (www.aaenvironment.com) work to get environmental legislation passed that will directly affect black people. “People can do environmentally friendly things to their homes, but that’s not going to reduce smog,” McDonald says. “You have to do that on a societal level.” For a list of other environmental organizations, visit the online environmental community EnviroLink.
Capitalize. With emphasis being placed on developing environmentally friendly products and services, there is a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurs, Jones says. Check out environmental job openings at Websites such as Greenforall.org, Ejobs.org, Ecojobs.com, and Environmentaljobs.com. And read Go Green, Live Rich by David Bach with Hillary Rosner (Broadway Books; $14.95) and Green Jobs: A Guide to Eco-Friendly Employment by K.C. Golden et al. (Adams Media Corp.; $12.95).
This story originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.