From Indigenous protesters challenging a crude-oil pipeline at Standing Rock to the dawn of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, the disenfranchised and underrepresented are speaking out and leading the way in the fight against climate change. As they do, they remind us of the importance of supporting an equitable climate movement—one that includes, benefits, and empowers everyone.
Our existing fossil-fuel-based economy has not distributed advantages—or social and environmental burdens—equally. The transition to a cleaner economy built on renewables provides us with the opportunity to create a different paradigm. To achieve this, people advocating for climate action everywhere need to thoughtfully and deliberately make a “just transition” central to their work. That means elevating the needs and concerns of frontline communities already living through the effects of climate change, as well as the solutions they have to offer.
This starts with respectfully listening, and being aware of the messages sent by our own actions and words. “People who are historically accustomed to being excluded, or worse, must hear and know, explicitly, that we are welcoming, that we want to learn from them, and that they will be safe with us,” says Deeohn Ferris, Audubon’s vice president of equity, diversity, and inclusion. “It’s important to act on our intentions and to speak them out loud.”
As a climate advocate, you play an important role in making sure all communities receive the social and environmental justice they need and deserve. Whether writing a letter to the editor, appearing before the city council, or lobbying state legislators, these concepts will inform your advocacy.
Seek Grassroots Partners
From passing a local ordinance to crafting city-wide legislation, frontline communities are often left out of conversations they should be steering, says Anthony Rogers-Wright, who works with the Climate Justice Alliance and was the policy lead on the Green New Deal, a vision for U.S. legislation that addresses both inequality and climate change. He points to the local Green New Deal recently adopted by Seattle as an example. “It was the front lines dictating and building grassroots power over a long, sustained process that eventually led to its passage,” he says.
Equalize Economic Opportunity
As legacy jobs like coal mining go away, those who relied on them need to benefit, too. “When we think about just transition, we think of it as not only providing solutions through our energy use, but also creating economic opportunities for communities,” says Kerene Tayloe, director of federal legislative affairs for We Act, a social- and environmental-justice nonprofit. Do your part by advocating for programs that provide paths to green jobs, like wind-turbine technicians and solar installers, and supporting local minority-owned businesses.
Elevate the Voices of Youth.
Younger generations have the biggest stake in the decisions we make today. “We are renting the planet from young people,” Rogers-Wright says. But while student activists have grabbed plenty of headlines, the framing is often exclusive. “When we are evoking this narrative of young people, [we must make sure] we’re talking about all of the young people,” he says—not just those who are white.
Fight for Equitable Funding.
Those working on the front lines need proper financial support. You can lobby city councils and other groups to provide funding that helps bridge the gap between marginalized communities and wealthier ones. “Once those resources can be shared in a more equitable way, then we can speak for ourselves and really push forth an agenda that will not only save our communities but, in honesty, save the country,” Tayloe says. “Because if we have clean air in Harlem, if we have clean air and water in Flint, all those other places will benefit, too.