We often forget that Black history is happening every day. In the environmental field, new Black leaders are sprouting up across the country, but it hasn’t always been like this.
For decades, the environmental movement was almost exclusively white, barring Black communities from participating — all while bearing the disproportionate impacts of air pollution and climate change. However, this narrative is starting to change.
The number of Black workers at environmental organizations is growing, but these numbers still need improvements. Diversity is crucial if we’re to properly curate the environment for everyone to benefit.
This is the definition of environmental justice: the equal enforcement of environmental laws for all people regardless of race. Black communities have been fighting for environmental justice for decades.
The movement gained national attention in 1983 after hazardous waste sites in southern states were found to be disproportionately located near black communities. This led to numerous protests and demands for more data collection, sparking the career of Dr. Robert Bullard, the father of environmental justice who is credited with making the movement what it is today.
The movement reached the global spotlight after the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.
People started to rethink how we treated the environment and who benefited the most. Environmental organizations started facing their decades-long track record of scarce diversity, governments started to rethink their policy decisions, and the Black community started planting themselves into environmental spaces.
Our ancestors quite literally planted the seeds of this country by force and, after centuries, are finally reaping the recognition that the environment still selectively benefits a few.
We can’t achieve environmental justice without the Black experience. We hold the key to implementing solutions that address the disproportionate exposure to air pollution and climate change.
We grow up, raise families, and write the next chapters of Black history in these communities. Excluding our experience from the environmental field goes against the equal opportunity that this country prides itself on.
Our government is turning a new leaf as well. Last summer, President Biden signed into law the largest investment to address climate change in U.S. history, allocating $60 billion for environmental justice.
These programs include $3 billion for community-led projects, $27 billion for a national green bank that funds projects in environmental justice communities, $4 billion for energy and water efficiency, $3 billion for projects that improve transportation access and affordability, and millions more to map environmental harms and economic disinvestment. Done right, these investments will reach the corners of our country that need them the most.
How can you get involved? This investment in addressing climate change is projected to generate nine million jobs by 2030, and we need your help. Sign up to Black in Environment, an organization that illuminates Black excellence across the environmental field. They have a job board that posts new jobs in the environmental field every day.
Also, join Black Oak Collective, which also has a community of Black professionals and advocates across environmental fields in the D.C. area and beyond. On top of that, reach out to your government representatives about the importance of environmental justice and the need to support underserved communities impacted by climate change.
For the first time in our nation’s history, the Federal Government has made a goal that 40% of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are overburdened by pollution. Getting these funds to communities while generating the benefits of cleaner air, water, and living conditions is exactly the work needed to achieve environmental justice.
Our momentum to combat climate change in our communities is growing and draws on everyone regardless of profession. There’s never been a better time to start a career in the environmental field. Join the movement and walk among the Black leaders that are the product of our ancestors’ dreams.
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T.J. Osborne is the Federal Policy Manager of Green For All Program at Dream.org.