Kicking off an agenda this month, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is now focusing some of its advocacy efforts on environmentalism and climate justice. It just launched the Solar Equity Initiative, a year-long venture that will deliver solar job skills training to 100 people, equip 10 community centers and 20 homes with solar panels and work to eliminate inequities in solar access policies in at least five states.
The organization immediately began to make good on its promise by installing solar panels on the Jenesse Center, home to South Los Angeles’ longest-running domestic violence intervention program. The NAACP believes the panels will save the center tens of thousands by cutting energy costs. Furthermore, the resulting reduction in harmful emissions will equate to planting more than 2,000 trees or having 17 less cars on the road, demonstrating precisely how this undertaking can aid communities of color by reducing energy usage and reserving funds.
In January 2017, experts predicted that solar energy could soon become the cheapest energy source, which bodes well for the NAACP’s steps toward sustainability. While electric automotive and solar panel manufacturing giant Tesla announced plans to power the island of Kauai with solar energy, these efficient, energy-smart methods remain largely exclusive to the wealthy and privileged, far away from the grasp of America’s communities of color such as in Flint, Michigan, where residents are still recovering from the city’s shameful water crisis.
In a press release, the NAACP further highlighted the various disadvantages faced by the communities that stand to reap major benefits from its solar initiative.
“Communities of color and low-income communities, as well as population groups such as women, consume the least energy, but are most disproportionately impacted, suffering poor health outcomes, compromised education, loss of livelihoods and loss of life as a result of exposure to toxins and the ravages of climate change.” Just as a plethora of race-related and socioeconomic disparities and biases halt the progress—and in too many cases, the lives—of people of color in the U.S., the lack of environmental justice only serves to further marginalize them.
As American Progress points out, “Communities of color have higher exposure rates to air pollution than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts.” Furthermore, industrial complexes and landfills are more likely to be situated in communities of color. Both climate change and lead poisoning take a higher toll on children of color as well as low-income and communities of color.
In 2016, Clean Energy States Alliance published a report titled Bringing the Benefits of Solar Energy to Low-Income Consumers that cites various barriers that block these citizens’ access to the sustainable resource, among them affordability, blatantly biased policies and language barriers that keep POC from educating themselves on the subject. The report also attributes the lack of access to the false “market perception that low-income consumers suffer from low credit scores, which often prevents third-party solar providers from marketing to low-income communities,” despite findings that “low-income households spend a larger proportion of their income on energy than other Americans do.”
Clearly not everyone supports the NAACP in its assertion that “clean energy is a fundamental civil right,” but thankfully other organizations like WDC Solar and GRID Alternatives are also working tirelessly to educate and empower underserved communities while equalizing the manner in which renewable energy options are dispensed to everyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.