How Climate Change Affects People of Color

Your Take: Blacks face health consequences as a result of pollution. We need to demand change now.

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If we get serious about energy independence, we can transition more Americans into jobs they're proud of. We can help more local green businesses get off the ground. And we can save millions on health care costs while protecting Americans from asthma, heart attacks and other preventable illnesses caused by outdated, polluting sources of energy, like coal.

Finally, we have to hold polluters accountable. For too long, coal and oil companies have gotten away with passing along their costs to the rest of us, in the form of health problems and disasters caused by pollution. And communities of color shoulder the heaviest burden.

We need stronger safeguards that protect our air and water from mercury, soot and other toxins. We can generate much-needed revenue for America just by asking fossil fuel industries to pay their fair share. A tax on carbon pollution could generate billions of dollars while helping prevent health problems like asthma, heart disease and birth defects.

A key piece of this, and one that is too often overlooked, is the need to make sure that fossil fuel workers are among the winners as we transition into a clean-energy economy. As we take the necessary steps to fight climate change -- like enacting a carbon tax and cracking down on pollution -- we have to be vigilant about making sure that workers in the coal and oil industries aren't left to pay the price.

Climate change is real, and so is the need for jobs -- especially in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. And despite the attacks on the green economy from big polluters and their allies, green jobs are still one of the best ways to create pathways out of poverty and into the middle class. That's because, if you work in a green job, you'll earn roughly 13 percent more than the median wage and you'll need less education. This means that if your family couldn't afford to send you to college, you can still find work that pays well enough for you to create a better future for your own kids.

Today one of the best ways we can advance the gains of the civil rights movement is by creating real economic opportunity and dignified work for folks who have historically been left out. And the clean-energy economy offers the most promise to do just that.

It's time to get real about tackling climate change. And as we do, we need to work harder than ever to make sure the jobs and opportunities that are created open doors for the folks who are on the front lines: low-income Americans and people of color.  

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is the chief executive officer at Green for All, a national organization dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans through a clean-energy economy. Follow Green for All on Twitter.

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