Frontline groups play a critical role in the fight for climate justice
By Clarke Henderson, program associate, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
This summer, we have seen observable effects of global climate change on our environment. Extreme weather events and record-breaking heat waves, like the one that gripped the Pacific Northwest, are coming in far greater frequency. While cities like Vancouver and Portland experienced the brunt of it, Atlanta, and other cities, continue to face increasingly insufferable summers.
Heat is the most dangerous, and deadly, consequence of climate change. Extreme heat kills more people every year than any other natural disaster, and hot days are getting hotter and more frequent. Moreover, not everyone can afford to escape these rising temperatures.
Disparities in the distributive effects of climate change are being studied. UrbanHeatATL has been one of two citywide studies this summer examining which Atlanta neighborhoods are hottest and how to help protect them as temperatures rise. Not surprisingly, communities that experience higher temperatures were often those subject to redlining, referring to the historical federal segregationist housing policies that began in the 1930s.
Segregationist resistance of the 1950s and ‘60s managed to preserve the world of segregation and hone it in subtle, but stronger forms. Populations of whites decreased from cities into suburban areas, changing how resources were allocated and to whom. Residential segregation was a key mechanism by which racial inequity was created and reinforced, and we continue to experience those effects today.
Cities are built with a lot of impervious surfaces, like pavement, which absorb and retain heat, creating what is effectively known as an urban heat island. Cities are generally hotter than their rural counterparts are but differences in the distribution of green space and concrete in certain urban neighborhoods can exacerbate the adverse economic and health consequences for its residents.
Environmental justice tells us that whether by conscious design or institutional neglect, low-income communities and communities of color in Atlanta’s urban core have not had the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards. As we grapple with how the economy of space can be made more just, sustainability and resiliency should be at the center of this strategy.
Atlanta is home to the largest charitable sector in the South. With the proliferation of climate and environmental justice movements in the American South, there is opportunity to increase the portion of philanthropic climate funding deserving of these grassroots campaigns. At the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, we have experience returning power and resources to communities. We are invested in supporting civic engagement strategies, community organizing, and policy campaigns to strengthen grantees’ efforts to fight for an equitable society. There is still work to be done—we must continue to expand our analysis and advocacy to win climate and equity policy solutions that build durable power for healthy communities.
The Funder Toolkit on Climate, Health, and Equity is a great resource to gain a sense of the interconnected landscape and accelerate investment to communities most implicated by environmental and health inequity. Additionally, we would like to highlight some of our partners and the work they are doing in this field:
West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA) is a community-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life in West Atlanta’s Watershed by protecting, preserving and restoring the community’s natural resources. WAWA represents African American neighborhoods in Northwest and Southwest Atlanta that are most inundated by environmental stressors, but are least represented at environmental decision-making tables.
WAWA’s grassroots approach to organizing, research, community science and education elevates local community knowledge and lived experiences enabling residents to solve and address their environmental challenges. As a collaborative partner in UrbanHeatATL, they are mobilizing community science to highlight solutions for the most vulnerable communities.
Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE) advances policy and institutional actions that promote racial equity and shared prosperity for all in the growth of metropolitan Atlanta and the American South, with a focus on four key areas: energy, growth, health, and opportunity. PSE recently received a $6 million grant from the Bezos Earth Fund. Thanks to this grant, PSE will be able to expand the work of the Justice40 Accelerator, a nation-wide effort designed to help community-led environmental justice projects compete successfully for federal funding from the Biden/Harris administration’s Justice40 Initiative.
Georgia Conservation Voters (GCV) works to mobilize Georgians to advance climate and environmental justice through voting, advocacy, and other forms of civic engagement. GCV is on a mission to transform Georgia’s political landscape by electing leaders with conservation values and holding them accountable to implementing policies that ensure clean water and air, abundant wildlife, scenic landscapes and economic opportunities for all Georgians.
Photo courtesy of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance.