Patrick King, Sustainability Education Manager with Urban Green Labs, explains why environmental justice efforts are directly tied to issues of racism and inequity.
Patrick King believes sustainability and environmental justice efforts need to focus more on working with predominantly Black and Brown communities. As the sustainability education manager with Urban Green Labs, he’s helping to build an Environmental Justice Initiative for Nashville that will address those problems.
“Black and Brown communities are going to be the most impacted from a changing climate. Black and Brown communities are already the most impacted from environmental hazards, but they also have the most to benefit from this environmental movement,” he explained. “But there’s a disconnect there, because there aren’t that many Black and Brown faces as a part of this movement.”
In this episode of Speak Up for Equity, Tennessee Diversity Consortium Executive Director Robert Lawrence Wilson talks with King about the intersection between equity and sustainability. King also shares his goals around promoting environmental justice in Nashville.
Empowering Nashvillians to Live Sustainably
At its core, sustainability is all about “[ensuring] a better quality of life for all, now and into the future,” King explained. With Urban Green Labs, he’s working to help communities in Nashville and Middle Tennessee learn to live those principles out in their daily lives.
To achieve this goal, Urban Green Labs offers training and workshops for local organizations, a Students in Sustainability program for Nashville high schoolers, the Nashville Sustainability Round Table for Middle Tennessee professionals, and partnerships with community organizations looking to implement more sustainable practices.
In addition to these programs, King is also working with Tennessee State University to develop the Nashville Environmental Justice Initiative, which is focused on helping distressed and underserved communities. The initiative grew out of conversations he had in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, where he began to understand that sustainability was directly connected to the conversations about racial justice, and no one in Nashville was really working to address this.
“There were environmental factors that played out in Minneapolis that related to distressed communities, specifically the distressed communities where this violence took place,” he explained.
Why Environmental Justice Matters
King realized that environmental justice is an important focal point for Nashville, because predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by certain sustainability issues.
He shared the example of the Urban Heat Island Effect, which states that parts of cities which lack tree cover can be 10-15 degrees hotter in the summer. This often occurs in communities that are underserved and irresponsibly developed, like the North Nashville area. As a result, people in that community have to pay more money for cooling even though they tend to be some of the most economically disadvantaged in the city.
“Black and Brown communities are more often than not bearing the brunt of a changing climate, bearing the brunt of environmental pollution,” King explained. “And this is not by happenstance, this is by design.”
Because of this and other problems, Black and Brown communities also can serve to benefit the most from sustainability initiatives, but they’re often left out of the conversations. This is what the Nashville Environmental Justice Initiative hopes to remedy.
Envisioning a Better Nashville
As King works to remedy the problems facing communities of color in Nashville, he believes it’s important to get more people from those communities involved in the conversation.
“We need to have more Black and Brown faces taking part in these conversations. Nobody knows their own community as much as the people who live there,” he shared.
In the next five years, King hopes to see laws passed that protect those neighborhoods by requiring developers to engage with the communities they work in. In Nashville, there aren’t many protections around environmental impact for developers, so he wants to see new protections in that area as well.
“What I’d like to see in the next five years is kind of having neighbors in that community organized and aware of environmental hazards that they may face,” he shared. “And also reaching out to their councilperson and fighting for their own survival and viability.”
To learn more about the ways you can get involved with the Tennessee Diversity Consortium, visit tennesseediversityconsortium.org/join-tdc. And be sure to subscribe to Speak Up for Equity wherever you listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.