Embracing and Integrating Diversity at SACE

Stephen Smith | February 28, 2013 | Energy Policy
To bring the Southeast closer to a clean energy future, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy recognizes that this critical transition must be equitable and afford all people and communities access to goods, resources and opportunities.

At SACE, we believe that the future success of any energy and climate movement will be determined by how broad and diverse the base of citizens are who call for energy reform and climate action. The more diverse climate and clean energy proponents are, the more the movement will accurately represent and reflect our changing society.

Studies have shown that during the next five to ten years, the demographics of our country – and more specifically our region – are going to change in very profound ways. Yet we don’t have to wait until 2020 to see these changes occurring: as reported by the USA Today, in 1990, Hispanics made up only 1% of North Carolina’s 6.6 million residents, but by 2010 the number of Hispanics grew to almost 7% of its 9.5 million residents. We also anticipate that the African American population will continue to be a significant and growing percentage of the population in the South and are already seeing increases in the Latino population throughout our region. These and other diverse interests will continue to engage more directly and consequently in the political process in the South.

Thus, SACE is actively building both our internal, organizational knowledge and capacity around the issue of diversity and inclusion as well as integrating diversity into our external advocacy and community-based programmatic efforts.

Traditionally SACE’s role is to advocate for clean energy policies that reduce climate pollution through our technical expertise and analysis.  But as we continue to expand the scope of our diversity work, we are learning that concern for longer-term, energy policies often take a back seat to people’s daily needs.  Therefore, we are going beyond our traditional advocacy tactics and finding new ways to bridge and relate to these new constituencies to provide clear examples of how energy impacts everyone’s lives.

This work includes participating in the 2012 Good Jobs Green Jobs conference to highlight the opportunities that green job creation will have in increasing employment in lower income communities. SACE is also engaging new constituencies to participate in advocating for good clean energy policies; from highlighting community weatherization programs funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to mobilizing community leaders to attend public hearings to discuss new EPA rule’s that would set limits on mercury and other toxic air pollutants emitted from coal plants. And this month, to commemorate Black History Month, SACE partnered with the Atlanta Black Nurses Association and the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance to offer a Social Justice, Environmental Justice and the Impact on Minority Health Symposium for health care professionals, environmental and community advocates to discuss public health disparities from pollution in low income and communities of color. See our recent blog of this event here.

Since there are more African Americans living in the South than in any other part of country, our collaboration with this demographic is particularly valuable to us. African Americans and other persons of color are plagued with an array of health conditions that are directly associated with how energy is produced and consumed in our region and our country. In addition to the health disparities, many members of the African American community also pay a disproportionately high percentage of their annual budget for energy compared to other segments of the population.

As African Americans are part of the diverse family that is emerging in the Southeast, we believe that recognizing the significance of diversity is especially important during Black History month. SACE is committed to growing our relationships and helping be a positive force within the African American community in gaining a better understanding of energy and collaborating on how to advocate for policies and actions that help minimize both economic and health impacts to the community.

We continue to look for and are eager to find opportunities to partner with diverse voices around energy policy in our region.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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