While there are improvements to be made with race-based issues on campus, there is no question that the University is committed to making strides toward racial equity. This is evident through the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiative implemented in 2015. The DEI is at the forefront of the University’s agenda — and personally I think for good reason. This being said, the DEI should not be the only way we address racial inequality at the University.

While it may not be obvious, the importance of addressing racial inequality is especially true when evaluating the sustainability initiatives put forth by the University. Clearly, environmentalism is critical to the health of the planet — which is already important. However, environmentalism’s pertinence to racial inequality makes it even more significant. And, considering the federal government’s lack of commitment to green efforts, sustainability should not be placed on the back-burner.

The Trump administration began by expunging all references to climate change from the official White House website. Then, the President’s budget proposed that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) funding be reduced 31 percent. Trump also ordered a review on the auto-industry’s fuel emission standards set by the Obama administration, essentially striking a deal already set in place. This week, the President determined that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, in which the United States pledged to lower its annual greenhouse emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

It is ample clear from these examples that the Trump administration does not have an agenda that contributes to the nation’s sustainability efforts. In fact, budget cuts to the Region 5 EPA office (which serves Michigan and several other Midwest states) and persistent rumors of its closing suggest that Michigan will not have federal help fighting the battle against climate change. Therefore, it’s more important than ever that the University and its students put sustainability efforts at a priority.

Furthermore, as an institution committed to remedying racial disparities, it is essential that the University — and the state — care about climate change. Climate change, pollution and other environmental issues disproportionately affect minorities and the poor in the United States. Those who live in poorer areas are more likely to breathe dirtier air, and less likely to have health insurance to fight against the damaging effects it produces. According to a 2009 University of California study in Los Angeles, African Americans were twice as likely as others to die in a heatwave. Additionally, climate change has disastrous effects on the labor and supervisor sector, which is largely comprised of Hispanic employees. In a case study I did on Long Beach, Calif., examining the I-710 freeway corridor and the Port of Long Beach, the negative environmental effects of these two issues were largely taken by disproportionately impacted poor minorities.

Even the environmental catastrophe amplified by government negligence in Flint clearly targeted minorities. If there had been more resources committed to environmental justice, Flint may have had safer environmental conditions.

If we as a University care about racial progress, we also need to care about sustainability and climate change. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiative is critical, but it is important more than ever that sustainability initiatives work in tandem to it. Not only does it address an issue our government fails to prioritize, it improves some racial inequalities DEI looks to address.

If you care about the planet and its future, you should support increased sustainability efforts at the University. And while it may be less obvious, if you care racial equity, it is important you care about sustainability.

Brennan Pope can be reached at popeb@umich.edu

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