Volunteers walked out of the Southside Commons on May 16 to bridge the science to the sidewalk as they hit the streets to ask passers-by how climate changes are impacting communities in South Seattle.
The street survey is part of the Climate Justice Project, a community-based research organized by two people-of-color-led organizations, Got Green and Puget Sound Sage. The project looks at how issues of climate change affect marginalized communities in South Seattle and South King County. The two groups will gather data through surveys until June and are expecting to release a report with recommendations sometime in fall 2015.
Got Green executive director Jill Mangaliman said this project comes in line with other environmental justice issues in the Pacific Northwest, such as the “Shell No” movement against Shell’s arctic drilling efforts. However, according to Got Green, not everyone in Seattle will be experiencing the climate crisis in the same way.
“Due to historical redlining and structural racism, people of color and immigrants already live in the most polluted and under-resourced neighborhoods, facing higher rates of health and economic disparities,” Got Green said in a statement.
A 2013 study by the University of Washington and Puget Sound Sage found that pollution in South Seattle, home to many communities of color, is one of the worst in the state. In addition, the region faces higher cancer risks from that pollution compared to other parts of the state.
Got Green also highlighted that rising costs of energy, food, housing, and other basic needs due to climate change will exacerbate the inequities both in the region and nationally.
Currently, a bill on carbon reduction (HB 1314) is making its way through the State House of Representatives. Among other issues, the bill includes language that aims to address racial inequities, such as reinvestments in impacted communities, tracking hot spots and establishing an environmental justice advisory committee.
During the May 16 project launch, Dimitri Groce, community research fellow at Puget Sound Sage, said the Climate Justice Project is about changing the framing of environmental issues to focus on communities of color and making sure their concerns are heard in conversations about reducing carbon footprint.
“Communities of color and low-income communities have always been environmentally inclined,” Groce said. “They can’t afford to drive to work, so they use public transit, they can’t afford new things so they shop secondhand, they couldn’t afford AC, so they go into our public spaces during the summer. … We’re going to re-center the issues of communities of color to the front of this campaign.”
The anonymous surveys focused on getting input from community members on how they feel climate change has or will impact them, their neighborhood, and their communities. Volunteers broke up into teams and covered neighborhoods in South Seattle or South King County.
Because of the diversity of survey respondents’ backgrounds, the volunteers acquired a wide range of responses. Some respondents may already be invested in environmental issues, while others may not be as familiar with the complexities.
Although climate change impacts everyone, many don’t see the bigger picture, according to My Nguyen, a UW student and Climate Justice volunteer who conducted the surveys.
“When [respondents] think of climate change, they think of like the environments, the animals—they don’t see how the impact of climate change is affecting them on a personal level,” Nguyen said.
Daniel Gagnon, another student and volunteer, said it’s important to hear concerns of people “who don’t get asked these questions a lot,” such as those from marginalized communities.
“Sometimes we have perceptions of what we expect to hear as answers,” Gagnon said, “but you do need to go out and ask the questions to people to really know how they feel about an issue.”
To bridge the gap in knowledge, Mangaliman said the Climate Justice steering committee of community leaders designed the survey so it not only pulled out information from respondents, but also gave them information and ways to be involved with the issue.
“Just by stating facts around how communities of color will experience heat waves or flooding or just naming the impacts, people will start to think like ‘Oh wow, this is beyond polar bears and plants, but that it’s happening here in our community,’” Mangaliman said. “It really is about bringing the science to the sidewalk.”
Mangaliman said the project is also a way to find new leaders from marginalized communities to make sure the efforts can be maintained.
Sarra Tekola, Climate Justice steering committee member, said that while Seattle and most of Washington are often considered environmentally friendly, not everyone experiences the benefits.
“Seattle gets voted five stars for sustainability, but what they only got one star for is equity,” Tekkola said. “Not everyone gets access to the sustainability, but we’re here to change that.”