The Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion on climate change. (Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce)
The Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion on climate change. (Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce)
The Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion on climate change. (Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce)

[AUSTIN] — Community activists, business leaders and students gathered last week at Huston-Tillotson University for a conversation on the impact climate change is having on Austin’s African American communities and the country. The event was sponsored by the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce and organized by the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. The Austin discussion was one of several similar events that took place in cities including Baltimore and St. Louis.

Tam Hawkins, interim president of the Greater Austin Black Chamber, moderated a conversation centering on the negative health implications of climate change on African Americans and the economic and entrepreneurial opportunities born out of the clean and alternative energy technology market.

“Clean energy is the future,” said Tam Hawkins, interim president and CEO, Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce. “Austin is one of the greenest cities in the country, and is leading the discussion on the impact of profitable change. Alternative energy is a viable option prime with opportunity for Black business.”

Other speakers included, John Hall, Texas State Director, Environmental Defense Fund, Eva Hernandez, Senior Field Organizer, Sierra Club and Dr. Amanda Masino, Huston-Tillotson associate professor of biology, and faculty advisor for Green is the New Black, a student-led organization whose mission is to promote the benefits of the environmental justice movement.

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan took center stage during the discussion. The Plan sets the first ever-federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, lowering the amount of health problem-causing toxins released into the air. The plan has public health and climate benefits worth up to $54 billion per year in 2030. It provides an opportunity for us to have a healthier environment and economy by helping communities of color save money on electricity bills. By 2030, the Clean Power Plan is projected to cut the average American’s monthly electricity bill by seven percent and could save consumers up to $45.8 billion on their home electricity bills.

Studies show nearly 40 percent of the six million Americans living close to coal-fired power plants are people of color, and are disproportionately African American. The toxins from these plants are responsible for thousands of premature deaths, higher risks of asthma attacks and other respiratory diseases, and hundreds of thousands of missed work and school days. It is essential that African American businesses and communities are not excluded from conversations centered on the green economy boom.

“It’s time for Texas to take action on the disproportionate effects of climate change on urban communities, and the Clean Power Plan is the perfect opportunity to get started,” said John Hall, Texas State Director, Clean Energy and Environmental Defense Fund. “Fortunately, the state has an abundance of homegrown, clean energy resources that will allow us to significantly reduce carbon pollution, while lowering electric bills, saving water and spurring our state’s economy. Embracing and implementing the Clean Power Plan is a critical step toward speeding the transition to a clean energy economy, which will help alleviate the climate burden on the communities most impacted.”

Next week a delegation of Huston-Tillotson students and faculty, including Dr. Masino, will travel to Paris for the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention Conference of the Parties 21st or COP21. The students will be joined by thousands of other college students for discussions on the environment and its impact on underserved communities around the world.

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Freddie Allen is the National News Editor for the NNPA News Wire and 200-plus Black newspapers. 20 million readers. You should follow Freddie on Twitter and Instagram @freddieallenjr.

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