Centering frontline communities

Carolyn Holland

Carolyn Holland

Vice President, Engagement

It’s time for communities that are experiencing the deepest effects of climate change to lead conversations on how to mitigate its impacts.

As an organization with almost three decades of history in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve done our best to respond to the issue of global warming in a way that builds social, economic, and ecological resilience in the region. From registering the first voluntary forest carbon transaction in the Northwest and providing climate-smart tools for land managers, to partnering with tribal communities on forest management and conservation projects, our response to a changing climate is informed by environmental and community concerns.

But while we undertake various projects to respond to the challenges of global warming across our region, we also recognize our endeavors are couched in the context of Ecotrust as a primarily dominant-culture (white) organization. When it comes to taking tangible action to address and mitigate sea level rise, warmer winters, or changing food supply for the folks who will be impacted by these effects here at home, workable solutions with staying power must come from frontline communities.

Frontline communities are those that experience “first and worst” the consequences of climate change. These are communities of color and low-income, whose neighborhoods often lack basic infrastructure to support them and who will be increasingly vulnerable as our climate deteriorates. These are Native communities, whose resources have been exploited, and laborers whose daily work or living environments are polluted or toxic.

And while these communities have a disproportionate wealth of experience living with the implications of climate change, they likely haven’t benefited from the same deference on environmental issues with which Ecotrust and other dominant-culture organizations are privileged.

That’s why, this year, Ecotrust endorsed the People’s Climate Movement March for Climate, Jobs & Justice in Portland to support an intentional power shift. In previous years, leadership of the march fell to mainstream environmental organizations. This year, it was led by Oregon Just Transition Alliance, a coalition of social and environmental justice groups. Mainstream organizations, who have most often been the public face of environmentalism, were asked to step into support roles, while the leadership and voices of frontline communities were centered.

In platform and action, the march was focused on issues that local frontline communities identified as crucial focal points here in Oregon, including gentrification, displacement, inequitable transit access, militarization of public spaces, and the housing crisis – and the threads connecting each of these issues with environmental justice and climate change.

The time has come in climate work to center voices from these impacted communities. As we move forward as an organization, we are learning about the climate connections to a wide range of racial and social justice issues experienced by frontline populations – connections that may not be clear to those who don’t experience these disparities as part of their daily lives. We are showing up in solidarity to support the call from these communities for equitable housing, public transportation, clean energy, green spaces, and worker and immigrant rights.

We know it will be important, valuable, and rewarding work – and we know we still have a long way to go, together.

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