These past weeks have been emotional, exhausting and unsettling for everyone. But it has also been a hard reminder that this is a constant for Black people in the U.S.
We at CDP stand with Black Lives Matter, and we mourn with the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and far too many other victims of a system that has failed Black communities for much too long.
As a white man, I'm aware that I move through the world with privilege and advantages that are often invisible to me. Now is a time for white people, as well as the environmental movement, to do more with and for the Black community.
People of color are disproportionately impacted by injustice and wealth disparity – and also by climate change and pollution. Addressing environmental issues and racial justice requires acknowledging and eliminating some deeply engrained structural and systemic root causes.
The work we do at CDP helps us measure connections between environmental risk and social justice. For example, a fifth of cities disclosing to CDP report “increased risk to already vulnerable populations” – a number that is likely vastly underreported. From hurricanes to floods or extreme heat, Black and Brown communities bear the brunt of the immediate, acute impacts of climate change. In predominantly Black U.S. communities like Flint and Newark, water pollution remains under-addressed long after problems become known. Poor neighborhoods of color are much more likely to be exposed to dangerous pollution, driving up rates of asthma, cancer and other illnesses.
We must do more to protect our communities from the overlapping crises of climate change, environmental stress, disease and racism.
A green economy that works for people and planet must work for all people, and to do so we must insist that people of color be present and heard when decisions are made. The green movement in the U.S. is full of well-meaning and passionate people, but it is predominantly white, lacking the racial diversity needed to achieve true and inclusive change, and its origins include a legacy of racism.
At CDP North America, we are striving for more inclusiveness, working with external diversity experts, widening our recruitment pool to encourage job candidates from colleges and universities that serve predominately diverse populations and diversifying our Board of Directors. But we know we can and need to do more to make our office a supportive place for Black professionals not just to have a place to work but to advance their careers and influence change – connecting them to mentors and investing in their growth and leadership development. Only then will our team realize its true potential and reflect the makeup of the communities most threatened by environmental risk.
Also critical is elevating the voices of people of color who are leading environmental progress forward. Our CDP North America events to date have included diverse speakers, and we strive to avoid all-white and all-male panels. But too often, we find that there aren’t many Black and Brown people in the organizations we work with who focus on environmental issues, and we run the risk of perpetuating tokenism as opposed to being an engine of change. We recognize that we are not perfect here at CDP and we have much work ahead of us to bring racial equity to our mission. We urge the rest of our environmental space to do the same.
In addition, CDP can be impactful in advocating for racial equity to be better integrated into the work of our stakeholders. We will strive now more than ever to help the cities, companies, financial institutions and policymakers we work with invest in resilient, racially equitable environmental futures.
All of us must invite honest, raw and uncomfortable conversations around race and equity into our workplaces and our personal lives. For those of us for whom this is not a daily reality, let’s not just wonder – we need to educate ourselves on systemic racism, support Black communities and organizations with our time, money and influence, and become better allies by listening more and speaking up when we witness injustice.
We must not look away from the brutal history of systemic violence against Black and Brown people that persists in our nation today – for sure, the tragic killings of unarmed civilians, but also mass incarceration, water and air pollution, exposure to extreme weather, health inequity and economic oppression. Those of us working on environmental action must commit ourselves to racial equity across the board. Progress on both must move wider and faster, and hand-in-hand. We can no longer accept surface-level solutions and must all demand and work for a better tomorrow.