Climate Change and Our Health – Protecting Our Most Vulnerable Communities

Guest Blog | August 31, 2015 | Climate Change, Energy Justice, Energy Policy

This guest blog was written by Madeleine Taylor, Executive Director of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP.

Just as we march to preserve our right to vote and to ensure that our children have access to good schools and a quality education, we also march to preserve our rights to clean air, clean water and to communities less impacted by climate change. That is why I applaud President Obama’s introduction of the Clean Power Plan and it’s focus on ensuring everyone will benefit as we transition to a clean energy economy.

When folks think about climate change, the first things some people think of are melting ice caps and suffering polar bears. However, many fail to make the connection in terms of the direct impact on our own lives, families, and communities.

The NAACP has examined the impacts of energy production on our communities and we have found that African American communities across the country are victims of excess exposure to the toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants.

In fact, almost 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant of smoke stack.  This exposure is responsible for birth defects, asthma, lung disease, learning difficulties and heart disease. In Memphis, we continually suffer from increasing asthma rates.  In fact, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America named Memphis the 2015 Asthma Capital.

Recently, I shared my concerns and thoughts as part of a panel at the “Climate Change and Our Health – What Memphians Need to Know” event at the University of Memphis’ University Center, held on August 22. The event was sponsored by a coalition of partners working to educate communities about the dangers of climate change and air pollution – the Sierra Club, Mom’s Clean Air Force and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Also serving on the panel was Rick Maynard, Environmental Issues Representative for Congressman Stephen Cohen, and Scott Banbury, Conservation Program Coordinator for the TN Chapter of the Sierra Club.  The panel was moderated by Dr. Marian Levy, University of Memphis Dean of the School of Public Health and opening comments were offered by Rita Harris of Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice  Program. Lindsay Pace of Mom’s Clean Air Force made closing remarks at the event.

State Representative Barbara Cooper (D – Dist. 86) also took part in the event and spoke passionately about the importance of taking action to protect the health of our communities. Rep. Cooper has been a long time advocate for environmental justice issues, continually calling for solutions to address inequities, even while many stayed silent.

At the event, I spoke on the importance of acting to combat climate change in order to protect the health and livelihood of our most vulnerable communities.  Changes in our climate are happening worldwide and those impacted most severely are the poor and the disadvantaged.

When our communities are subjected to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornados, drought or excessive rainfall over a short period of time – the most vulnerable among us are unable to respond and many times find it near impossible to bounce back. These people have no homeowners insurance; they must find a new rental residence.

As seen in its call-to-action below, the NAACP’s Climate Justice Initiative has been working hard to sound the alarm about the true danger climate change poses to our communities.

Climate Change is about Katrina, Rita, and Ike devastating communities in Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas, Climate Change is about our sisters and brothers in the Bahamas who will be losing their homes to rising sea levels in the coming few years. Climate Change is about people in Detroit, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere who have died and are dying of exposure to toxins from coal fired power plants.

Climate Change is about sisters and brothers in West Virginia who are breathing toxic ash from blasting for mountain top removal. Climate Change is about our folks in Thibodeaux, Louisiana who are being forced to move within the next 10 years because rising sea levels will result in the submersion of the coastal land that is their home currently.

It’s about the fact that race–over class–is the number one indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in this country. Climate change is about the fact that in our communities it is far easier to find a bag of Cheetos than a carton of strawberries.

I will continue to work with allies to continue to raise the alarm about climate change and ensure that communities of color benefit from our new clean energy economy, after suffering at the hands of dirty energy for far too long. I do this work because cleaning up the air and our environment is the right thing to do for the health of our communities and for generations to come.

Solar panels, like these on the roof of Carnes Elementary in Memphis, can help communities save money and help clean up our air.


Guest Blog
My Profile