CNBC Make It talked to a handful of notable Black climate leaders who have been doing remarkable work in the fight against climate change and its dangerous repercussions for decades. Here’s what they have to say about why diversity and inclusion in the field of climate change science is so critical.
Adrienne L. Hollis, climate justice and health scientist
Hollis’ work: Hollis oversees the development and implementation of programs to measure and track the health impacts of climate change on communities of color and other “traditionally disenfranchised” groups at the Union of Concerned Scientists, according to the organization’s website. She is developing new research to understand how climate change affects health and makes policy recommendations “to foster inclusiveness and greater benefits to underserved communities.” (Read more here.)
The diversity she has observed in her career: Hollis began her research on “issues related to health effects from ozone exposure” more than 30 years ago, she says. “During that time, there was very little or no diversity in related industries or companies, and very little in academic studies in general.”
But Hollis herself chose to work with advocacy groups that included “Black, Brown and Indigenous people,” she says. “In my experience, they are and were the first to engage around climate issues. I was not working with large advocacy groups – conservation organizations for example – that were not diverse at all.”
Why Black people must be part of climate change work: In Mobile, Alabama, where Hollis grew up, “as I drive around my old neighborhood, I see the results of … chronic flooding, homes boarded up and abandoned because of damage from severe weather events and contaminated environments that have caused cancers and other illnesses, and faulty infrastructure. I see the results of economic oppression, where people do not have the financial means to keep rebuilding or to move to an area that does not flood,” she says.
“We have to be active. We have to step up and claim our space,” Hollis says. “We have to fight to protect ourselves and each other. Or nothing will be done to stop the practices that place us at risk – at risk from extreme heat for example, like lack of access to greenspace like parks or to cooling centers. Or the effects that climate change has on agriculture, on the availability of healthy foods or access to food.”
“It is literally a matter of life or death,” Hollis says.