Framing a Green Economy Based on Social Justice

What do uranium mining on indigenous lands, coal fired power plants in black communities, cancer clusters in communities of color and low income communities, food deserts in Latino communities, elevated asthma rates in black communities, droughts in once-thriving farm lands, and Hurricanes Katrina, Isaac, Sandy, etc., all have in common? These are all just a few of the reasons that communities of color must become engaged in, and indeed revolutionize the “green economy”.

First, we must define “green economy” on our terms. As the world slowly begins to recognize that we are on a catastrophic course as we rely on fossil fuels as both finite and deadly sources of energy, the type of transformation that is warranted must focus on conserving energy, using sustainable sources of energy, and developing equitable systems to deal with the climate change and other types of damage we are already seeing as a result of decades of harmful choices/practices.

At the same time, we must think expansively of what this means and how this transformation can be effectively implemented while respecting all rights for all people.

To name a few tenets, a justice based green economy must be:

  • Locally focused--building on local assets and addressing local needs;
  • Globally sensitive and respectful—recognizing the interconnectedness of US policies and actions with impacts, particularly in global south nations.
  • Non-exploitive—preserving of worker rights and not engaging in harmful extraction processes;
  • Inclusive—ensuring that there is support for worker cooperatives/worker owned models, community ownership, and leadership of front line communities.
  • Holistically designed—including transportation equity, equitable climate change adaptation planning (including emergency management), food justice, safe water access, clean air, accessible energy, affordable and safe housing, violence-free communities, etc.

Next, we must become centered and coalesce around our motivations for engaging in our newly defined “green economy”. We cannot fall into the trap of myopically viewing the energy sector as an avenue to make money and solve our, albeit significant, financial challenges.  If we only focus on dollar signs, we can become the instruments of our own demise. Experience has demonstrated that a sole focus on profits ultimately comes at the expense of those on the most vulnerable rungs of the societal ladder, which are inevitably communities of color and low income communities.  As we advance economic justice in the green economy, we must also ensure that we build communities where all rights are upheld so that everyone wins, not just a wealthy few.

Finally, we must have a concerted plan of action for advancing a justice and equity based vision for sustainable communities and a livable planet.  NAACP is convening “Bridging the Gap: Connecting Black Communities to the Green Economy” on April 15th in advance of the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference.  Through this convening, we aim to contribute to the effort of advancing transformative analysis and action around the “green economy” and to bring new leadership to bear on directing policies and resources towards a progressive vision for building local economies, resilient communities, and a just society.