It’s the same old song and dance. Whenever and wherever a climate policy solution is proposed, the fossil fuel industry and its allies and front groups target people of color and low-income families with scary messages about energy costs.
They have been singing the same tune to rural communities and working class families in Washington and Oregon. It’s constant background music for vulnerable communities in California as oil companies attempt to undercut and villainize AB32, a policy that put the kibosh on their free lunch while investing in efficiency, clean energy, transit, and support for frontline communities. And the lyrics have been the same when they target African-American and Latino communities in response to Obama Administration climate and energy policies, including the Clean Power Plan.
But I ask you: since when has Big Oil been a credible voice for black and Latino and low-income Americans?
That’s right: since never.
And, polling shows that most Latino and African-American voters aren’t buying it. As I’ve written before, Latino opinion on climate change outpaces the general US voter population, and a recent Green for All and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) survey found that African-American voters are out ahead of white voters when it comes to concern about the problem and support for climate solutions.
Serious problem, serious about solutions
Since when has Big Oil been a credible voice for black or Latino or low-income Americans? That’s right: since never.
Indeed, 83 percent of African-American voters support the Clean Power Plan (63 percent strongly and 20 percent somewhat), compared to 60 percent total support among US registered voters on the whole (PDF)—among whom strong support is 27 percent. Eighty-two percent of African-American voters back the idea of states developing clean energy plans that help cut carbon pollution, improve energy efficiency, and boost renewable energy.
NRDC/Green for All found that three in five African-Americans see global warming as a serious problem (extremely or very serious). This is on par with the general population of American voters: an ABC News/Washington Post poll (PDF) taken around the same time found that 63 percent of Americans on the whole see climate change as a serious issue, with 52 percent saying it’s very serious. But people of color appear to be boosting the average significantly: that survey found that 56 percent of white voters see climate change as a serious problem (46 percent very serious), while 78 percent of non-white voters see it as serious (63 percent very serious).
Seeing clean energy opportunities—not costs
Fears trumped up by the oil and coal industries about jobs and costs do not align with the prevailing views of the African-American voters they’ve targeted. This research indicates that African-American voters are optimistic about the economic opportunities of transitioning to cleaner energy sources and are willing to increase their energy bills to make that transition a reality.
A healthy majority, 66 percent, of African-Americans say using more renewable energy will translate into new jobs, while only 11 percent expect job losses. Compare that finding to a Morning Consult poll that found only one-third of Americans on the whole think the Clean Power Plan will generate jobs, 23 percent said there’d be no impact on jobs, and 28 percent predicted job losses.
Similarly, more than half (57 percent) of African-Americans surveyed believe that shifting to cleaner energy will reduce their energy costs, and only 18 percent thought it would increase those electricity bills. The Morning Consult poll found that 42 percent of all Americans believe their utility costs would increase under the Clean Power Plan, 23 percent foresee no change in costs, and just 19 percent believe the action would lower utility prices.
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Nearly two-thirds of African-American voters actually say they would be willing to pay more on their monthly electrical bill in order to ensure that more of their energy is coming from clean and renewable sources. In fact, nearly half (49 percent) are willing to pay as much as five dollars more per month. Based on a similar question polled around the same time, a slightly smaller share—55 percent—of the voting population on the whole have indicated they’d be willing to pay more.
When it comes to renewable energy sources, Americans are broadly in favor, but African-Americans are again ahead of the pack. While Gallup finds that 79 percent of American voters want more emphasis on solar, 87 percent of African-American voters support using more solar. Ditto wind power: 70 percent of Americans on the whole favor more wind power, and 83 percent of African-American voters do.
One place where African-American voters lag the general population on climate: 42 percent of African-American voters favor getting more power from coal, while just 28 percent of American voters combined agree.
Through all that industry smoke, a powerful call to action
Though you might not know it from the way pollsters talk, there’s obviously no such thing as a monolithic African-American community, but when it comes to climate change, the numbers indicate that Black voters make up a demographic in the US that gets it.
68% of US African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, and black Americans’ rates of childhood asthma increased 50% from 2001-2009.
There’s lots of speculation about why this is so. Natural affinity with the mainstream environmental movement can pretty much be ruled out, unfortunately—though there’s ample potential there for groups joining forces and gaining strength. It’s also largely a function of political party: African-Americans are far more likely to be Democrats.
Lived experience certainly plays into political attitudes about the necessity and urgency of solutions as well. African-Americans across the US disproportionately shoulder the effects of coal and other dirty energy pollution. Sixty-eight percent of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, and rates of childhood asthma among black children increased a whopping 50 percent between 2001 and 2009. As NRDC’s Adrianna Quintero points out, African-Americans were 20 percent more likely to have asthma than non-Hispanic whites in 2012. Worse yet, in 2013, African-Americans were three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than the white population. These are families on the frontlines, where solutions aren’t just about their kids’ future, but their kids right now.
That urgency, our moral duty to act, and calls to hold polluters accountable have been sounded loud and clear by numerous African-American leaders who have voiced their support for the Clean Power Plan. Here are the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III, Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL, and economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux, writing last month in the Atlanta Daily World:
Contrary to big polluters who deny it, climate change is real. The cost of neglect is real and incredibly high, for African-Americans…. The opposition to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is well-funded and well-organized. Over the last few years, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been poured into a campaign to convince the public and more specifically the African-American community that the President’s plan is a job killer and will only increase black folks’ electricity bills. This accusation is once again an attempt to muddy the waters and bamboozle our community. An overwhelming majority of African-Americans recognize that our communities suffer a greater burden from air pollution and climate change than the population at large. Many of us even live on the front lines of environmental hazard and harm. And we demand a better future for our children and grandchildren.
As Green for All founder Van Jones put it, “Dirty energy companies are using the [National Black Chamber of Commerce] to push out junk science and junk economics in order to try to turn communities of color against the most important clean air protections of our generation. They ought to be ashamed.” (DeSmogBlog follows fossil fuel money to national African-American groups). Big Oil should listen up. Even with the Congressional Black Caucus and industry-backed organizations echoing the messages of the fossil fuel industry, this research indicates that Black voters see right through it to the benefits and opportunities of equitable climate and energy solutions.