Recently, Jack and Jill Politics had an opportunity to interview Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) about the book he and his wife just published. I’m personally a bit obsessed with massive global crises such as climate change, peak oil and, I guess now, bees. I’m just sayin, I don’t care as much if you’re a racist, just be carbon neutral about it.

That conversation with Kerry got me thinking even more about the risks and opportunities our poorer, minority urban neighborhoods face over the next few decades as America attempts to make the transition to a more sustainable energy infrastructure.

On the one hand, many of our communities are the first to feel the negative effects of pollution, and as the underlying costs of oil-dependent goods and services necessarily rise with the decline in supply, we will feel the burn first as well. Environmental justice is a serious issue forced onto the national scene in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and addressed on great blogs like the African American Environmentalist Association. We often suffer more and recover more slowly.

On the other hand, the massive scale of the national reorganization required to meet the climate and oil crises creates an incredible opportunity… to do something right. It gives this country a chance to engage all its citizens in the sacrifices and benefits associated with a more sustainable society.

In many ways, African Americans were passed over in the great technology boom of the past decade and the great transfer of value in outsourcing operations. Basically, I’m saying that all those companies looking offshore to workers could have looked in-shore to the hoods of America where unemployment among black folks is generally double that of the overall population.

While my own feelings on the immigration debate are in flux, much can be said of our need to make sure our own domestic population is able and willing (see: education policy, community investment, elimination of discriminatory lending, revised urban planning, factory zoning rules and more) to fill the employment needs of the economy before getting gung ho about imported labor, legal or illegal.

Our driving culture will have to change dramatically. Our economic networks may need to become more local in nature along with food distribution and energy production. We cannot afford, as a nation, to not have everyone at the table. There is no reason that the benefits of investments in alternative energies, local agriculture, mass transit and more should not be shared with and among our most depressed areas (I’m talking rural areas too BTW).

I envision rooftop organic farms in the hood and reduced asthma rates for our people when we get serious about emissions controls and fuel economy standards. I see our local businesses growing and our high levels of fast food and junk food consumption declining. My hopes in this area have been greatly influenced by the work of Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx.

This post was much longer than I anticipated, but the real point was to introduce this video of Majora’s speech at the TED conference in 2006. It’s 18 minutes and worth every moment. Please do check it out. Majora is for real and has been behind a great transformation in her own hood. She exhibits more leadership than most of our presidential candidates combined.

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