Earlier this month, hundreds of community activists gathered near the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif., to mark the two-year anniversary of the facility’s explosion that sent more than 15,000 individuals from the surrounding community to the hospital. These campaigners – which included residents of this racially diverse, low-income city to the east of San Francisco – were passionate about the issue of climate change, announcing they had also come together to brainstorm local solutions to the climate crisis.
Despite this rally in Richmond and the long-standing environmental justice movement, the misconception that people of color don’t care about environmental issues remains. But a new poll commissioned by the nonprofit Green For All reveals what we should have known all along: Communities of color are not only concerned about the environment, but also view climate change as an imminent threat.
According to the survey, 68 percent of African American, Latino and Asian likely voters think climate change is an issue that Americans need to be worried about right now – not a problem we can put off in the future. And a whopping 75 percent reported that they are following new information on climate change more closely than in the past.
Whether the climate crisis was labeled as “climate change” or “global warming,” a majority of survey respondents felt we need to devote more resources and attention to address the issue: About 62 percent said not enough resources have been allocated to climate change, while 55 percent stated they felt not enough has been designated for global warming.
And politicians should take note: Due to this heightened awareness of climate change and other environmental concerns, 70 percent of voters surveyed said that they were more likely to support candidates willing to “expand resources” (read: spend money) to combat climate change – over politicians that say addressing climate change will kill jobs and hurt the economy.
The survey, conducted by polling firm Brilliant Corners this summer, questioned 400 African American and 400 Latino likely voters from eight battleground states, like Florida and Ohio, as well as 100 Asian likely voters from Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.
It should come as no surprise that people of color think we need to take action on climate change. These communities are concerned with issues that affect their daily quality of life: the cost of food and gas, as well as access to transportation, health care, and clean air and water. Changing climatic conditions touch all of these areas – from shrinking crop yields and damaging infrastructure to exacerbating droughts and air pollution. Furthermore, communities of color are often more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with Hurricane Katrina being a prime example.
“There is a lot of rumor and speculation surrounding what people of color think about climate change and the environment,” Green For All’s Executive Director Nikki Silvestri said in a statement. “Yet, too often the communities that are hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change are not part of the discussion. But, the answer is clear. People of color care deeply about the environment and the impacts of climate change. We understand the urgency of these threats because we experience the effects every single day.”
In an interview with Grist, Dorceta Taylor, professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, spoke about the erroneous belief that people of color aren’t concerned with environmental issues, focusing on the African American community.
The perception that people of color don’t care about the environment has existed for a long time, and has been debunked for just as long. We can go back to [historian] W.E.B. DuBois, whose 1898 study on Philadelphia looked at the housing and health conditions of African Americans. People have described it as a sociological study, but if you read it, it is an environmental study, if ever there was one. He looked at the environmental conditions of these communities, but he linked them with social inequality and justice issues.
Before that, look at Harriet Tubman. We tend to think of her as someone only successful on the Underground Railroad, but to be that successful she was steeped in environmental and ecological knowledge. She knew the Chesapeake Bay so well that the U.S. military used her at the head of their ships to identify landmines the Confederates had laid in the water and identified them based off what she understood about disturbances in the water.
Slaves depended on ecological knowledge and were extremely effective at it — they used it to survive slavery. So the notion that we don’t care or know about the environment is just a fallacy.
But beyond climate change’s connection to health and security, there is also an issue of ethics: Over 30 percent of the minority voters polled said that the most significant reason for supporting new carbon emissions standards was a moral duty to leave their children a habitable planet.
Whether due to morality or more pragmatic quality-of-life concerns, it is clear that communities of color care about climate change. But, with other polls showing that more than half of Americans worry about climate change very little or not at all, will their support convince politicians to stop dragging their feet on climate solutions?
Image credit: Flickr/United Workers
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru