The struggle to move public officials and government leaders to take strong action on climate change has long been characterized as largely a white movement, but that media image is a dramatic misrepresentation of the facts: When Americans are asked about climate change in polls, non-whites care much more about the need for action than white people do.
The latest poll by the Pew Research Center shows that nearly half of non-white Americans think that global warming should be a top priority for the president and Congress. For white Americans, the percentage is just over 20 percent, representing a difference of more than 20 percent.
The figures are starkly different than the stereotypes that get fostered by media images, showing throngs of white people marching and protesting to seek action on climate change. But while the pictures broadcast across the TV screens are more likely to show white environmentalists, the poll numbers show it is Blacks, Hispanics and Asians who are the real environmentalists in the U.S. In fact, the gap between whites and non-whites is growing larger on the issue, according to Pew polling numbers. While the numbers of non-whites who think it’s a priority hasn’t changed much since 2007, the numbers of whites has plunged more than 10 percentage points.
Even when Republicans are removed from the picture, non-white Democrats have a stronger compulsion on the environment than white Democrats, according to recent Pew Research Center data showing that since 2007, an average of 50 percent of non-white Democrats think it should be a top priority compared to just 37 percent of white Democrats.
“People of color are definitely attuned to these environmental issues and how it’s affecting their communities,” said Angelou Ezeilo, an Atlanta-based environmental activist who founded an environmental group called Greening Youth Foundation that serves to educate young people of color about the environment and expose them to the abundance of “green” jobs. “If you go by the major media and different forums and publications, you would think people of color aren’t interested in the environment. Though these things are happening in their backyards, the way it is always presented is they don’t care to have a voice because they have more pressing issues and more fundamental needs they have to focus on, so therefore they don’t have any time to focus on air, food and water— which ridiculous.”
This racial difference on climate change is key in several states where candidates have made climate change an issue—states such as Michigan and Florida where the Black and Hispanic vote will prove pivotal, according to Al Jazeera America.
Ifeoma Ike, co-founder of grassroots organizing group Black & Brown People Vote, told Al Jazeera America that the environmental justice movement has long focused on how people of color are disproportionately hurt by climate change. She said Black and Hispanic populations in dense, urban “heat zones” suffer most from climbing temperatures.
“I think we’re starting see more progressive and millennial groups of color target their resources and their energy towards [the climate] fight,” Ike said.