For the past nine months, Got Green, a people-of-color-led environmental justice organization, and Puget Sound Sage, a nonprofit organization with a mission to build communities in which all families thrive, have been working with the South Seattle community and other organizations in order to determine the community’s collective priorities and lift up the message that poor people and people of color are often hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change.
In March 2016, their final report, Our People, Our Planet, Our Power—Community Led Research in South Seattle, was published. At 51 pages long, the report explains its purpose, highlights its research methods, delves into its findings, and explores its next steps towards a “collective path forward.”
“Our biggest goal was for our communities to see themselves in climate issues and to have the dialogues about what climate change means for us, the communities most impacted by these issues,” said Got Green executive director Jill Mangaliman.
The report encourages people in low income communities and people of color to change the way they talk about climate change, and to view themselves as key players in the movement. The report’s purpose is to identify the barriers stopping community members from being active participants in the fight against climate change, and to provide solutions for combatting these obstacles.
The Climate Justice Steering Committee, a grassroots volunteer group, developed a six-month long plan to reach out to community members and organizations to gain a better understanding of community thought surrounding climate change. This type of research, Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR), is designed to provide data that is helpful for the communities that the research is aggregated from.
The Climate Justice Steering Committee used CBPR to accomplish their two goals—to “understand how residents of Southeast Seattle think and feel about, climate change, policies meant to stem climate change, and climate change preparedness” and to “develop local community leadership in the movement for Climate Justice.”
The Climate Justice Steering Committee developed two tools to complete their research: a community survey taken by 175 participants and an organizational leader interview, in which 30 representatives from various organizations working with communities of color in Seattle participated. Over the six-month span, the committee also held three community roundtables open to all community members to discuss climate change in further detail, and to explore solutions to the relative problems community members found most concerning.
In an attempt to understand how to begin talking about climate change with community members, the report stated that the Climate Justice Steering Committee “needed to ground [themselves] in community priorities.” The findings from the survey indicate that while people of color and low income residents are supportive of climate change solutions, they do not see themselves as being disproportionately affected by climate change.
When asked a series of questions regarding health hazards that impact their neighborhoods, survey participants identified the lack of affordable housing and lack of affordable food as issues they were most concerned about. With a lack of affordable housing on the rise in Seattle, the report stated that displacement will only increase the city’s carbon emissions due to lack of public transportation and will undermine any community-based effort to build climate resilience.
“These issue are interconnected,” Mangaliman said. “We can’t solve climate change without solving issues of affordable housing, and racial and gender equality.”
Along side the worry of displacement, the rising cost of food was overwhelmingly worrisome to the survey respondents. The report quotes a statistic from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stating “that changes in temperature and rainfall patterns could lead to food price increases between 3% and 84% by 2050.”
When the Community Survey participants were asked how Seattle should respond to climate change, 75% of the participants were in support of carbon-reduction strategies. The most support came from the notion of transitioning away from fossil fuels as an entry to a green economy. The Climate Justice Steering Committee used the results from the Community Survey and the Organizational Leader Interviews to form a comprehensive outline of recommendations.
“When we talk about climate change we have to talk about how it impacts people locally,” Mangaliman said. “Communities of color are very interested in and supportive of climate issues. This is a matter of letting their voices be heard.” Mangaliman said.
The report calls for centering the knowledge, experiences, and voices of those most impacted by climate change when talking about climate change.
Our People, Our Planet, Our Power—Community Led Research in South Seattle describes three multi-part recommendations for a “Collective Path Forward”:
- To prevent displacement of communities away from the urban core.
- To focus on engaging communities in climate resilience and fighting climate change.
- To put racial equity at the center of climate adaptation decision-making.
Got Green and Puget Sound Sage are working closely with local government officials to pioneer these changes. Mangaliman is a co-chair for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Equity and Environment Initiative, which aims to deepen Seattle’s commitment to race and social justice environmental work. Both organizations are creating a pipeline for young leaders of color to get involved with green jobs. The Climate Justice Steering Committee is currently working on a campaign to end displacement, and to create access to affordable housing, in response to the survey participants’ tops concerns.
“Be informed, take action,” Mangaliman said. “We can’t do it on our own, so we are encouraging people to join our communities, and movements—Got Green, Puget Sound Sage, etc.—to push for these initiatives and solutions.”
Read the full publication online at http://gotgreenseattle.org.