For years now, scientific researchers and civil rights organizations like the NAACP have been documenting the disparate impact of climate change – and its underlying causes – upon Communities of Color.
On the streets of our cities, as well as in our more rural communities, pollutants from coal-fired power plants are exacerbating serious medical conditions like asthma to the point where children using inhalers are an alarmingly frequent feature of our lives.
Among our elderly, African Americans are succumbing to heat-related deaths at rates nearly double those among their Caucasian counterparts – and, in coastal areas like Florida, Louisiana and Maryland, we increasingly are more likely to be displaced by deadly weather-related disasters and rising sea levels.
The harsh, current reality of these threats illustrate why environmental justice has become a central thrust of our nation’s evolving movement toward universal civil rights.
Whatever may be our differing perspectives upon the other critical issues of our time, both our sense of social conscience and our self-interest compel us to accept an unavoidable realization.
Our survival, and the survival of generations yet to be born, depends upon each of us becoming “Green.”
Polling data confirms that minority voters understand the dangers of climate change and support corrective action. Two out of three of us agree that climate change is an issue that we need to be worried about right now – and six out of ten of us respond that not enough resources are being devoted to the challenge.
Yet, in the political realm, those who deny the reality of human-driven climate change or seek to minimize the urgency of these threats have found a home within the Republican Party, the White House and the Republican congressional majorities.
In sharp contrast, however, the 2016 Democratic Party Platform that I was privileged to assist in drafting refused to equivocate. We would commit our nation to a course of action that would obtain 50 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources within a decade – creating millions of jobs in the process.
Despite the outcome of last year’s elections, the majority of the American People agreed with Democrats’ vision of environmental sanity and prosperity.
This broad, multi-racial coalition of Americans who are determined to limit and reverse climate change is encouraging. The majority of us understand that, where the survival of our planet and the health of our people are concerned, the only race that matters is the human race.
Our immediate challenge, of course, is that the progressive steps undertaken by President Obama to meet these existential threats to our health and survival are now under direct attack by the White House and its allies.
In the Senate and House of Representatives, the fight for America’s future is being joined on many fronts, from challenging proposed budget cuts to critical environmental initiatives to our fight against President Trump’s misguided attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency.
In both bodies, Democrats are doing all that we can to advance the vision for the more prosperous, healthier and more survivable future that we pledged to pursue in our Platform last year.
Although last year’s elections left us weakened in Washington, we are heartened by the reality that the majority of the American People stand with us in this fight.
As we already have witnessed in the Women’s Marches and the healthcare debates, the American People are becoming actively engaged in fashioning the future of our country at levels that we have not witnessed in more than four decades.
Last weekend, thousands of scientists took to the streets to demonstrate that, when our future survival is at stake, scientific facts must guide our national policies, not ideology nor interest group politics.
On April 29, in a development that is even more encouraging, hundreds of thousands of Americans of every ethnic background will be “Marching for Climate, Justice and Jobs” in Washington and other localities throughout our country.
The People’s Climate Movement (peoplesclimate.org), a broad-based coalition of faith-based, labor, indigenous, civil rights and environmental justice groups from across our country, mirrors the coalition that brought Dr. King and other civil rights, labor and faith leaders to Washington in 1963.
In 1963, the outcry of the American People was for “jobs, peace and freedom.” Today, Americans are marching once again – for jobs, justice and the survival of humanity.
In this incarnation of America’s struggle, Americans of Color are not only participating in large numbers, we are leading. Being “Green” is no longer a function of one’s ethnicity, if that ever was the case.
In 2017, to be Black in America is also to be “Green.”
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.