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Leon Kaye headshot

Why Black Climate Week Absolutely Matters

By Leon Kaye
Black Climate Week

No, those photos you saw from past Climate Week NYC events and similar gatherings over the years weren’t washed out: They were just overall very white.

Despite the data confirming that communities of color are disproportionately affected by climate change and environmental degradation, the wider environmental movement has long been criticized for often excluding people of color from discussions over public policy.

Organizations such as the Sierra Club have faced their own reckoning over both their racist pasts and their lack of inclusion in the present. In recent years, many of these groups have pledged to do better, but there is still a perception that their focus on "saving the planet" comes at the expense of what communities of color experience day-to-day on the ground.

Therein lies the impetus behind the second annual Black Climate Week, concluding this Friday. The nonprofit Solutions Project launched this event last year to call out what it says has been the lack of leaders of color during Climate Week NYC. For 2022, Black Climate Week is showcasing 14 different organizations that have led the fight for true climate justice.

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This year’s event builds on the Solutions Project’s aim to support the goals of climate justice leaders. The organizations highlighted this week are among the almost 100 Black-led groups that have scored more than $4 million in grant money from the Solutions Project, along with communications and social media support, in a bid to help expand their reach and broaden their impact.

While the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests for social justice during the summer of 2020 have brought more attention to intractable problems such as environmental racism, the forces behind the Solutions Project say there is still a long road ahead until all Americans have a fair shot at clean air, clean water and a safe environment.

Among the discrepancies: To start, the Solutions Project claims only 0.5 percent of philanthropy dollars went to environmental justice organizations during 2020. That’s at most only $50 million of the more than $470 billion that donors gave to nonprofits that year. To put that in context, of the Nature Conservancy’s approximately $1.2 billion in financial support and revenue during fiscal year 2020, $900,000 of that was from dues and contributions (about $17.5 million a week).

Here are some additional numbers. For example, half of Black Americans now live where threats from hurricanes and flooding are becoming worse. Black people face odds of being hospitalized, or even dying from asthma, at a rate more than three times higher than whites. The lack of environmental justice in the U.S. isn’t solely a regional or urban problem, either: One study in 2018 concluded that people of color struggle with air pollution more than white citizens in 46 states.

On top of those statistics, the legacy of redlining and housing discrimination means that Black Americans are overall at more risk to severe climate-related weather events and flooding. “Indeed, by midcentury, the top 20 percent of proportionally Black census tracts will be at twice the flood risk as the 20 percent of areas with the lowest proportion of Black residents,” reporter Patrick Galey wrote for NBC News last month.

“Black communities have always had a deep connection with the land and are caretakers of the planet,” said Gloria Walton, The Solutions Project’s CEO and president, in a public statement. “We are often the most impacted by the climate crisis, but this also means that we are at the forefront of intersectional climate justice solutions that improve environmental conditions, create good green jobs, and address systemic changes across the board.”

Image credit: Adobe Stock

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye