My Climate Story: The Black Community and Communication

Adilia is an Environmental Studies major and Writing minor at Seattle University. She aspires to be a journalist and environmental writer. Originally from Stockton, California, her interest in the environment has increased since going to school in the Pacific Northwest. As a Doris Duke Fellowship Alumni, she wants to continue her work in fighting climate change. She loves staying busy by working on her blog, Accidie and Affection, or having fun at a Jamaican Dancehall class!


Starting my college career in Seattle has allowed me to delve into what climate change is, it’s causes, and, more importantly, who it most directly impacts. In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency released a study stating that African-Americans face a 54% higher health risk due to air pollution. Honestly, I didn’t need a study to show that. I center my views on climate change on the black and brown storytelling that science substantiates, although my white institution has done very little to prepare me for it. 

To engage with these narratives, being conditioned by my professors would be ideal. The reality is that black environmental scholars have to challenge themselves when the institution won’t. I accepted that climate change is the cause of forests burning down, crop failure, and drastically altered ecological systems. I needed to take it a step further to reflect on how it affected the African-American community.

In liberal institutions, climate change is widely accepted. After surveying university, faculty, and affiliates, an internationally collaborative study revealed 96.6% of respondents believe climate change is happening and caused by humans. More importantly, The Public Religion Research Institute reports “57% of Black Americans indicated that they were very or somewhat concerned about climate change”. If we can debate statistics, I believe that number is a little low. If my father, who has been in prison for 6 years, is well aware of climate change, then the black community is more aware of the climate crisis than we think. The works of Dorceta E. Taylor inspire my environmental writing. She is also an example that black environmentalists are ever-present in fighting for justice.

I can try to suggest all the ways my lifestyle as a college student has been more green, but I can’t expect everyone I tell to follow suit. When I suggest to my mom that Dr. Bronner’s is a safe, eco-friendly soap, she smiles and says she will think about trying it. The conversation gets deeper as I express my concern about the harmful abundance of plastic and glass waste in the neighborhood and the threat it poses to children playing in the streets. I don’t go into wider detail that more trees in the neighborhood improves the air quality. It’s not what drags them in. Localizing the issue works! A push for recycling in neighborhoods like these is more than getting bins for the neighborhood. Things like that are menial to the wider black struggle for a sustainable environment. I have lived in apartment buildings where the waste pickup person was bribed to pick up all the tenant’s trash to avoid paying city fees on recycling. The different norms that the low-income black communities have to endure are the crux of our climate struggle. I say our, because even though I moved away, those experiences and home are a part of my identity. Executive director of Green for All, Nikki Silvestri, said it best, “[People of color] understand the urgency of these threats because we experience the effects every single day.”  

The same goes for any racial/ethnic group. I have drastically reduced my meat, but only make the exception of humane/game meat or my mother’s cooking. Soul food in black culture includes meat in many dishes. I can’t let white forms of climate change resistance force me to give up a part of my identity. The ways I choose to protest climate change still make an impact in ways the mainstream movement is beginning to scratch.

 


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