Bet on a Brown and Green America

Your Take: A sustainability expert says our future is tied to people of color and clean energy.

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(Special to The Root) -- The face of America is changing dramatically. New census data shows that for the first time in our history, babies being delivered in hospitals all over the country are predominantly African American, Latino, Asian and other minorities. It's not just our babies who are growing more diverse. It's our neighborhoods, our communities and our workforce. In some of America's largest cities, a new majority has already emerged -- one made up of people of color.

The faces of voters are changing, too. In the 2010 election, the percentage of Hispanic voters reached a record high. Meanwhile, census projections show that in just 30 years, nonwhites will represent a larger block of America's total population than whites.

It's true that we have work to do before our voting power matches our numbers -- far too many people of color are still systematically locked out of our democracy by arbitrary voter ID laws, criminal disenfranchisement and racial gerrymandering. But politicians who fail to notice that America is changing -- fast -- may soon find themselves in trouble.

Ultimately the leaders who thrive in the 21st century, and the ones who continue to hold office, will be those who respond to the needs of our increasingly diverse citizens. Elected officials will have to pay more attention to the issues pressing African-American, Latino, Asian and Native American families. And the nation's energy sector is among the most important issues.

Why? Because many people of color bear the brunt of pollution from outdated power plants and toxic industries. A staggering one in six African-American children suffers from asthma, compared with one in 10 nationwide. And of the 8 million people living within three miles of polluting coal-fired power plants, a disproportionate number are people of color. Energy is not just how we power our lives; it's a public health issue.

In addition to cutting asthma and other pollution-related health problems that plague our communities, clean energy opens a door for those of us who were left out of the old economy -- including people of color.

There are already more people working in the green economy than in the fossil-fuel industry. These are good jobs -- they pay roughly 13 percent more than the median U.S. wage. And there are fewer barriers to getting them. Many workers in green jobs have less formal education than their counterparts. That means that the green economy, more than just about any other sector, is forging new pathways into the middle class. Talk about changing the face of our country.

The new majority in America will mean a new way of doing business. Our leaders will no longer be able to get away with policies that prop up 19th-century energy sources like coal and oil instead of 21st-century clean energy sources like solar, wind and efficiency technology. They'll no longer be able to get away with pouring money into the pockets of billionaires and poison into the lungs of our children.

The savviest leaders will be the ones who bet on clean energy and the green economy. That's where America's new majority sees a healthier and more prosperous future for our kids.

So when groups like the American Petroleum Institute (API) attack efforts to expand green jobs, what I hear is an organization that is tone-deaf and out of touch.

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