Every year since 1970, billions of people around the world have celebrated Earth Day on April 22 as an annual tradition to mobilize global collaboration towards restoring, maintaining and cleaning our planet.
This Earth Day, amidst the rising effects of climate change, activists and organizations are asking global citizens to embark on efforts of climate action. While we take necessary action to mitigate climate change, activists are calling on us to also recognize the disproportionate impact of climate change on people of color.
A growing group of young leaders are examining how environmental groups have played a role in excluding Black, brown and Indigenous people from climate issues. Green organizations have begun to condemn their history of policies and practices, such as the Sierra Club, which recognized the racist beliefs and actions of their founder, John Muir. And others have been looking at how Indigenous groups are often noted for their deep connection to their natural spaces, and how climate change shows their vulnerability.
The major causes of climate change – pollution and burning fossil fuels among them – have a disproportionately negative effect on communities of color across the U.S. A recent Green America report by the non-profit group Green America revealed that people of color in America are more likely to breathe polluted air and reside near coal plants and toxic waste sources, leading to subsequent crises of health and wellness. From heart attacks to birth defects to asthma, these effects can cause intergenerational, debilitating health problems for communities of color.
Natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey and Katrina have led to high levels of flooding in nonwhite neighborhoods. Four of the seven ZIP codes that suffered the costliest flood damage from Hurricane Katrina were at least 75 percent Black, according to government records. This damage also depleted these homeowners of color’s savings, worsening the racial wealth gap around the U.S.
The policy (official or unofficial) of “redlining” minority neighborhoods has come under fire in recent years, as calls for social justice have expanded into equity in loans, housing availability and even home values have been shown to be victims of systemic racism across the country. In one particularly egregious example, racist housing policies forced Black Oregonians into Vanport, a town built as a temporary housing solution to Portland’s rapidly growing population. Due to the town’s unfortunate location and shoddy infrastructure, it was flooded and destroyed in May 1948. Nearly 18,500 families were displaced, more than a third of which were Black.
Both as a philanthropist and the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, Smith is deeply committed to environmentally positive investments, pushing for carbon neutrality and acknowledging the intersections of racism and climate policy. Vista is a carbon-neutral company and signatory of the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), and urges others to invest in environmentally-friendly initiatives through its environmental, social and governance (ESG) policy.
Smith has also personally committed to decarbonizing the planet and diversifying climate activism. From sharing the carbon neutrality commitment of his alma mater, Columbia University, to praising the Biden administration’s decision to re-join the Paris climate agreement, Smith upholds these values in business, politics and society.
Plan your own Earth Day 2021 observations, and look to how you can make an impact year-round. To learn more, read about the advocates of color who are diversifying the climate movement and Smith’s efforts to address climate change by pushing the private sector to tackle environmental imperatives.