Friday, December 30 2016
Young People of Color Must Lead the Way for Environmental Justice

Finally, people are taking action regarding environmental issues. However, millenials of color are not leading the environmental justice movement, which is an important issue for our future. Few people of color work for environmental organizations and an even smaller number lead environmental organizations. Yet, a recent study found that if individuals do not act on climate change, the millennial generation as a whole will lose nearly $8.8 trillion in lifetime income.

After attending college and graduate programs, student debt ruins economic stability for many years for millennials, but studies demonstrate the heightened negative effects for young people of color. Young people of color must now consider that climate change will likely decrease their earnings simply because of current inaction. Millenials of color cannot afford to let others lead environmental and climate change conversations. Because of the economic and health impacts, young people of color must embrace the environmental justice and climate change movement similarly to other civil rights issues.

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Millenial-led movements like Black Lives Matter and DREAMers, demonstrate that we can lead social justice change, and our charge should be to lead environmental and climate decisions as well. Our lives literally depend on how we respond or fail to respond to environmental justice and climate justice issues. Climate change and environmental decisions impact people of color the hardest and we have seen the effects of neglecting environmental justice issues in Flint and other communities. We should be proactive in recognizing that local and statewide climate change and environmental decisions have long-term impacts. And we must make our voices heard regarding environmental and climate change decisions.

It is also important to note that given the data on diversity in environmental organizations, young people of color often are not hired or asked to lead conversations. Implicit bias often causes groups and agencies to believe that young people of color are not “qualified” to shape environmental decisions. This can be based on a variety of reasons, including that decision makers believe young people of color advocate solely for issues that they can tangibly recognize as an immediate issue or that young people of color are uninterested in science. Neither of these reasons are true nor should they deter young people of color from leading this cause. So we must take action and change the tenor of the environmental justice and climate change conversation.

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To be sure, many leaders of the environmental justice movement are people of color who led the conversation decades ago. Civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez understood the importance of environmental justice. The challenge is that environmental justice and mainstream environmental issues have often diverged in messaging, leaving people of color out of important decisions. But now is the time for young people of color to take the lead in shaping the conversation. Many of us know that climate change is a serious problem. But knowing an issue is a problem and leading the conversation for change can be different. TREE’s Seeds for Change birthed from the idea that young people of color will have to live with the impact of decisions made today for decades after agencies and corporations make these decisions.

Young people, particularly young people of color, have always been at the forefront for civil rights change. So let’s lead the environmental and climate change conversations to create a better future for all people, with young people of color leading those discussions.

Apply for TREE’s Seeds for Change program.

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