to the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
Energy and Equity go hand in hand.
Why we need to align efforts to protect the environment with efforts to eliminate poverty.
Urgent challenges being addressed in Tompkins County
Extreme income inequality, persistent racism, and increasing climate disruption are undeniable plagues of our time. We are fortunate that many people in Tompkins County are working on these issues. Some are advocates for racial and economic justice, such as creating living-wage jobs, removing barriers to reentry from the prison system, and ensuring affordable housing for all. Many others are involved in initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, such as, stopping gas infrastructure development, switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources, and conserving energy in housing, transportation, food, water, and waste.
As social justice and environmental advocates, we are often driven by a sense of urgency about our own particular issues and are not as well informed about each other’s efforts. If we are white and middle class we may tend to see climate change as the most urgent priority. If we are people of color or of low-income, we may tend to see poverty and racism as the urgent priority. In addition, persistent historic patterns keep us segregated from each other by place, race and class, perpetuating a gap in our empathy for each other’s concerns.
One Underlying Cause: Our Wasteful System
This separation is unnecessary and harms all of our work for our community. Social and economic injustice and extreme climate disruption are outcomes of the same inequitable and wasteful economic system, which treats people, especially people of color and those with limited material resources, and our living environment, as disposable. When advocates for environmental protection and champions for the elimination of poverty and racism work together to change the system that is trashing poor people and the planet, we will be able to create a strong, community-oriented local economy that works for all.
How are Energy and Equity critically related to each other?
6. An energy efficient community fueled by renewable energy results in reduced utility bills for everyone.
7. Policies that expand transportation options and support more compact, mixed income, mixed use neighborhoods help reduce transportation distances, emissions and costs; reduce social and economic segregation; and increase access to resources.
8. Reducing waste reduces the number of people who are treated like waste.
9. Growing our own food, hunting and fishing, and buying local food further reduces our emissions, helps families save money, and supports local jobs. For instance, it takes about 100 CSA subscribers to support a full-time local farmer that is helping regenerate the environment.
What We Can Do Differently: 10 Examples
Clean energy advocates:
3. Educate ourselves about structural racism and poverty and how they perpetuate inequality today in our own community.
4. If you enjoy the privileges of an identity such as white, male, middle-class, or heterosexual, choose to use these advantages to create a thriving, community- oriented economy that works for all.
5. Learn about and support policies and programs, such as the Living Wage campaign and Black Lives Matter, that address systemic injustice.
6. Use an equity-conscious lens when developing programs and plans about energy, food and transportation systems. Ask: What voices are missing and why? Do we have secure job options for those who will lose their work when we dismantle polluting energy sources? Will we require contractors to hire local labor at a living wage and be proactive in hiring and retaining people who have had barriers to employment, including a conviction record?
7. Make sure traditionally underrepresented people are at the table early on. Provide dinner & child care for public meetings. Ask people about their experiences. Become enriched by diversity.
8. Develop an ecologically conscious lens that sees clean energy and environmental protection as human rights and community health priorities, not elite luxuries. Include this perspective when we try to solve unemployment and poverty issues.
9. Support or create campaigns that join energy and equity goals, such as requiring developers seeking tax abatements to practice inclusive hiring and use environmentally-friendly options, or advocating for institutional divestment from both the fossil fuel and the private prison industries.
10. Promote earth-friendly behavior changes on a personal and organizational level. Recognize we have more to gain, even in the economic short term, from restoring our damaged life support systems. We all benefit from eliminating waste, having clean air in our lungs and clean water to drink and bathe in.
We can no longer treat people or the natural systems upon which we all depend as disposable. Let us find common ground in the civil rights vision of “Beloved Community” and the indigenous wisdom that All Life is Sacred. As justice and environmental advocate Van Jones put it, “We don’t have a throwaway planet, and we don’t have throwaway children — it’s all precious." It’s time to bring our causes together.
Written by Anne Rhodes, Elan Shapiro, Gay Nicholson, and Karim Beers,
members of the Energy-Equity Collective Impact Working Group of the Building Bridges Initiative.
309 North Aurora Street | Ithaca, NY 14850 | firstname.lastname@example.org