A Green Energy Future Must Be an Inclusive One

by Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

A transition to renewable energy in America will have a multiplier effect beyond merely reducing our emissions. . As Jennie Stephens, a Professor at Northeastern University, told Yale Climate Connections, this transition can also create positive social change in other arenas. In her words, “We really need to think about…connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about, whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health, and well-being.” To make these connections, she notes, “a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential.” 

As we build a greener future, we must work to ensure that we’re not recreating systems that deny people of color equity and sovereignty just with cleaner energy sources. 

 

Why This Matters: Activists have long noted that climate justice is social justice, and cannot be separated from the myriad of other issues of inequality it intersects with. But often, as many sources have noted, climate advocacy and sustainable energy groups employ “homogenous” and “insular” hiring practices, which lead to the phenomena of the “green ceiling”. 

A Deeper Issue: This lack of diversity and marginalization of BIPOC voices within the climate sector looms large. As Jason Carney, a solar installer, told All Things Considered, Going into [a] boardroom, I’m the only person of color. We go to these conferences, and I’m the only person of color. We go to the U.S. Green Building Council — the local chapter — and of 200 people, it might be me and maybe one other person of color. It was very intimidating.”

This representation has material impacts on who has access to solar energy. As advocate Lyn Griffith Taylor wrote in the Baltimore Sun, “designing the products and services to serve the needs of the un-electrified cannot be done by a boardroom of people who don’t represent them.” This is one reason, out of many in a system which perpetuates structural racism and anti-Blackness, that, for instance, neighborhoods where African Americans and Latinos make up at least 50% of the population [have] much less rooftop solar than white majority neighborhoods or those with no racial majority.” 

Moving Forward: People like Jason Carney are actively working to change the solar industry to make it more diverse. Carney himself is mentoring students of color within the solar industry, giving guest lectures at a local high school, and more. As he says, “There’s just no other way to get this to our communities. So those are still these seeds of what can happen tomorrow. But we’ve got to keep pressing.” 

But the onus of changing the system cannot fall only on people of color. We all must work to create a more just and equitable system. That means, as Lyn Griffith Taylor argues, a “real commitment– and real courage– from the often homogenous senior leadership of big green groups to curtail the insular hiring practices that cut off opportunities for people of color.” 

A seat at the table is, of course, not a cure-all in the fight to undo centuries of structural racism in environmentalism. But, to quote Lyn Griffith Taylor, “I fear that without diverse leadership representing the experiences of communities most impacted by energy injustice, the clean energy transition will fall short of its progressive goals.”

 

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