African American communities, including workers, are most likely to be exposed to the pollution from fossil fuel based energy production through coal plants, oil and gas refineries, as well as pollution from energy production through nuclear facilities and waste incinerators. We pay a severe price for this chronic, pervasive toxic exposure through health impacts. There are numerous examples of the health disparities. One glaring example is that the asthma hospitalization rates for African American are 3 to 5 times higher than White Americans; and asthma deaths are 2 to 3 times higher. We pay the price with the fact that African Americans are less likely to smoke but more likely to die from lung disease. We pay the price by being assailed with cancer cluster after cancer cluster characterizing our communities.
At the same time, the white-black-wealth disparity is 13 to 1, with African Americans earning $.59 to the White American $1.00. Many African American communities suffer from double digit unemployment.
Every job held by African Americans, particularly ones with security, benefits, and a living wage or better, is a precious and too often rare treasure. For some African Americans the same industries that might compromise community health as well as the health of the worker, often provide a critical livelihood for families and communities. While, for example, the coal industry provides jobs for thousands of people since 1968; coal mining, alone has taken the lives of 76,000 coal miners who have died of pneumoconiosis (black lung disease.) Similarly, the oil and gas industry occupational hazards and accidents (extraction and drilling) have taken the lives of thousands of workers worldwide. African Americans are significantly under-represented in the energy sector, holding only 1.1% of energy jobs, thereby, accessing only .1% of the revenue. Yet, our communities pay $41 billion annually into this $6 trillion dollar sector. However limited; these industries provide livelihoods, albeit, with considerable hazards. With market forces shifting the viability of these professions and for some, as coal based energy production, jobs are dwindling fast; the few jobs held by African Americans are under threat.
Concurrent with advancing market forces shifting how we produce energy, there is a growing understanding of the impact of fossil fuel based energy production on human health as well as the planet. The body of research has deepened regarding the tie between respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal and nervous system illnesses, cancer clusters, and energy generation. Climatologists also make clear link between greenhouse gas emissions, to which fossil fuel based energy production is the greatest contributor, and the proliferation of climate change.
The new energy economy includes solar, which is in the top 10 fastest growing industries in the United States with 373,807 people employed in solar in 2016 and many more projected in the years to come.
Simultaneously, wind turbine technicians constitute the #1 fasted growing profession in the United States.
As the new energy economy unfolds, African American workers face unique challenges of being at the crossroads of livelihood impacts, the need to hold on to secure pensions, juxtaposed against possibly experiencing improved quality of life at the community level as toxic practices are discontinued.
Navigating to be positioned with training and access to the extensive opportunities for job and business gains is critical. As workers who have historically experienced disenfranchisement within the labor movement, and with these differential circumstances, African Americans must define what a just transition looks like for them as society shifts away from fossil fuel based energy productions into the new energy economy.
With this backdrop, the Black Labor Convening on Just Transition will provide a forum for an explicit conversation among black workers about the impacts of this transition and how to ensure that there are policies and practices that minimize harm and maximize access, opportunity, and prosperity as we shift to sustainable, safe and healthy methods for producing energy. It is important to acknowledge that either we engage in the conversation and direct our attention to mitigating the impact on our communities or we continue to experience the gross exclusion in this new economy. The train has already left the station. Out of this convening, workers gathered will develop an action plan for implementation.
I. Identification of key concerns and consideration of black workers in the context of
transitioning to a new energy economy.
II. Identification of core values and principles of just transition as defined by black
III. Development of a Black Worker Just Transition Statement.
III. Development of a Black Worker Led Action Plan for Advancing Just Transition
I. Dawn Chase, NAACP Economic Program
II. Jane English, NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program
III. Denise Fairchild, Emerald Cities Collaborative
IV. Jacqui Patterson, NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program