May 25, 2017
As coordinator of the “Lideres Verdes” program for the past six years, I’m part of a mission to help communities build environmental wealth through social enterprise, outreach, and advocacy. Verde chose me for the job because I’ve lived in this neighborhood for a long time, I know many people, they call me “the little mayor.” This is my community. I raised my children here. I now want to help the community because I remember what it was like for my children to not have safe places in the neighborhood, like a park to play in.
Recently, a story on OPB’s “Think Out Loud” asked the question: “is climate change an environmental justice issue?” I believe so, and let me tell you why.
I live in the Cully neighborhood of Northeast Portland. When it’s hot outside, many of my neighbors don’t have air conditioning to retreat to a cool place. This is a major health risk for our elderly, young children, and those with health problems. Being in an urban neighborhood with a lot of major roadways, we already don’t have much green space. We get the the “urban heat island effect,” our neighborhood gets hotter than other places and more dangerous to our health. My neighborhood was ranked in the top 10 among the country’s worst urban heat islands.
The air in my neighborhood is more polluted than other areas, too. We have a lot of industry nearby, impacting our community - especially the kids - while also making us more susceptible to illnesses later on. Sadly, workers are often not made aware of these risks. You may have seen on the news issues with nearby glass factories polluting the air from their production; two of these glass factories are located in Cully. Just like you, we also had to hear about this from the news; workers and neighbors were never warned. There is another factory that produces asphalt, contaminating the whole community.
I think about those who are especially vulnerable -- pregnant women, the elderly, people with asthma, young children with developing lungs -- it makes me sad that our community does not have cleaner air to breathe. Clean air is a right.
All of these dangers cause us heartache and concern. Our community is strong, but the people here are in danger; they are worried, and they don’t know what to do. Ours is a community made up of people of color, of immigrants, of diverse cultures, of many languages.
As climate change continues, our neighborhood will feel its effects even more than other areas -- through the urban heat island effect, through stagnant air days, through our community members most vulnerable to these impacts. So is climate change an environmental justice issue? Just come to my neighborhood and you will see.
I’m very proud of all the opportunity that living in the United States has afforded me. My three children are college graduates or in college. I am a homeowner. I care about my country, my community and I want to make things better because I love it here.
Communities of color must be a part of shaping environmental solutions because we’re the ones most closely affected by climate impacts and pollution. Our community is made up of mostly lower-income families who do not consume much, so we are not responsible for the impacts, yet we pay the biggest price.
In my neighborhood, we’re active and engaged. We advocate for safer roads and sidewalks, and for more affordable, sustainable public transportation. We recycle, clean up our streets, and plant trees to add greenspace. We become civically engaged and advocate for policies that can make a difference. That’s why Verde supports Renew Oregon and the Clean Energy Jobs bill. It’s time for Oregon to transition from polluting energy to a clean energy economy. Our state can reap the rewards from leading on climate solutions, but only if we hold large polluters accountable with a limit and price on pollution. The reinvestment component of the Clean Energy Jobs bill can build up communities like mine that are hit first and worst by climate change and pollution. In Cully, we do our part; it’s time for big polluters to step up and do theirs.