By Lynn Sereda
Section 8 resident
Hodan Hassan used to think of images of things like polar bears when she heard the phrase, ‘climate change,’ and wondered how it related to her life and the communities she is a part of. That all changed earlier this year when she joined the Climate Justice Committee a collaboration between Puget Sound Sage and Got Green, two local minority-led non-profits.
On Nov. 12, the Committee held a Community Town Hall at NewHolly Gathering Hall to further the conversation about what climate change means for Seattle’s low-income community, especially those who are people of color or are immigrants.
Hassan is Got Green’s climate justice organizer, and says the purpose of the Committee is to create a group of racially diverse young leaders who want to challenge systems of oppression.
This summer, Got Green surveyed 150 people in South Seattle on what climate change meant to them. Hassan says based on her involvement with the group, she believes “climate change is central and important to our community and not something perceived as a remote phenomenon, like polar ice caps melting.”
Adds Hassan,“Low-income communities are the most directly impacted communities by climate change, even though they consume the fewest resources as a whole and profit the least from the extraction of resources such as oil and fossil fuels from the earth. This is not just a global issue but a local one.”
And by all measures, the Town Hall meeting, which drew over 100 people, indicates the importance of and interest in gentrification and climate issues with area residents.
Town Hall guest speakers discussed how global warming changes will impact marginalized communities. Panelist Sarra Tekola, whose father emigrated from Ethiopia, said the famine there is creating similar conditions now in Syria.
The 21-year-old environmental activist believes rising sea levels will eventually engulf islands in the Pacific Ocean and displace indigenous communities.
“Climate change is a poverty multiplier,” she said.
While poor communities are bearing the brunt of climate change, Tekola noted that mainstream environmental movements do not give them the space for their concerns to be heard.
“They are told that they are not experts; they are not invited to the table.”
Tekola, who has studied environmental science at the University of Washington, will be attending the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in early December.
Seattle University Sociology Professor Gary Perry spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement and said he believes racism is at the center of the climate change issue.
“Black spaces and black bodies are vanishing from the U.S. urban landscape and there is an intentional and systemic erosion and destruction of our communities,” he said.
Perry cited natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina that resulted in mass displacement of African-Americans from New Orleans and served as an excuse for the demolition of much of the city’s public housing.
The Climate Justice Project’s next steps will be to analyze and use their survey to further local grass roots organizing steps. To read more about how Got Green is impacting our community, visit http://www.gotgreenseattle.org.