Taking a Community-Based Stand on Climate Justice

By Tony Mestres
Seattle Foundation President & CEO

Seattle Foundation President and CEO Tony Mestres

Seattle Foundation President and CEO Tony Mestres

We live in a time when our world is facing an urgent crisis due to climate change. From recent flooding to forest fires and poor air quality, the Seattle region is already experiencing the impacts — and the same is true in many other communities across the country.

Many may believe this complex global threat is beyond the capability of our communities or people to change.

That is a myth.

Any effort to address this problem comes down to the actions of individuals and organizations. At Seattle Foundation, we believe we can make a difference in the global movement to protect our planet and our people, while leading from right here in our community.

While climate change affects everyone across the globe, the impacts do not affect us all equally. We believe climate justice is critical to a future that is vibrant, inclusive and sustainable for our region.

In Washington state and across the country, we have seen meaningful progress occur when the communities most affected by issues like climate change lead the way.

In alignment with our commitment to creating a thriving community for all, Seattle Foundation is launching our Climate Justice Impact Strategy to support the communities most impacted by climate change.

In this first of its kind strategy among community foundations, we are putting justice and equity at the center of our approach to climate change. We will invest in community-based research, build strong, diverse coalitions, and strengthen the capacity of nonprofits working to advance local solutions to this global challenge.

We will use our voice, exercise our leadership, and align philanthropic efforts to enhance climate justice for our region’s most vulnerable communities.

Advancing Climate Justice in Our Region

Research shows that low-income communities and communities of color experience pollution and climate change first and worst, shouldering a greater burden of extreme weather events, contaminated drinking water and waterways, poor air quality, and unhealthy housing.

The Duwamish River and its pollution are a threat to the low-income communities that neighbor it.

The Duwamish River and its pollution are a threat to the low-income communities that neighbor it.

The more than 5,000 people who live near the polluted Duwamish River here in Seattle have a life expectancy eight years lower than the city average. They will experience climate change through sea level rise, storm surges and flooding that amplifies their community’s urgent need to take action.

Fortunately, there is transformative work already underway in this area, and across our community, to address the impacts of climate change. Duwamish area residents, the City of Seattle, and other key stakeholders are working together to replace heavy equipment and gas vehicles with electric versions, as well as develop more green spaces and install rooftop solar panels on homes and businesses.

This is evidence that there are local solutions to the global challenge of climate change.

The Intersection of Climate and Justice

Seattle Foundation and its partners have been developing our Climate Justice Impact Strategy over the last 18 months. The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the need for this work and is a reminder to all of us that we must act with urgency. The panel of scientific experts found that we have a little over a decade to cut carbon emissions to near zero levels, or risk global disaster that includes extreme droughts, increased flooding and more heat-related deaths.

As we learned in the new report, “An Unfair Share,” written by the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group and the nonprofit coalition Front and Centered, with support from Seattle Foundation, local communities are often most effective at increasing their resilience to climate change impacts. Extraordinary change can happen when we invite everyone in, rather than leaving some voices out.

Peter Panepento