Uplifting the marginalized: C4 brings community to the forefront

Climate change is something we hear about on a nearly daily basis in the news today.  Our climate is changing, and fossil fuels are to blame. A recent report by the UN  says we have even less time than we thought to take drastic action to preserve life as we know it. But what about climate justice? A less used phrase, this is something that is crucial to our understanding of climate change if we are going to make real change in our country and across the world. Climate justice means “making climate adaptations and climate mitigation projects equitable to those who are marginalized or those who are disproportionately disadvantaged,” says Abby Carlson, an ambassador for Community Collaboration on Climate Change (C4), a recently formed grassroots organization in Grand Rapids.  

In terms of environmental and climate issues, “this conversation about environment and climate is viewed as a privileged conversation,” says Kareem Scales, co-chair of C4, “When you’re talking to people that are literally struggling to put food on the table today, to them, environment and climate are not going to go at the top of their list of what’s important, until you help them understand how this impacts them in their everyday lives.”

And it does impact their lives. In Grand Rapids, like in cities across the United States and the world, those who contribute the least to climate change are often affected the most. Renters feel the energy burden disproportionately as they pay higher gas bills in winter and electric bills in summer due to old, inefficient appliances in their homes. any renters end up paying 20-40% of their income toward utilities because of this energy burden, according to Ned Andree, the project coordinator for C4.

“The landlords, they don’t pay the utility bills, and they see that those old furnaces will last forever, even if they are only 40% efficient,” he says. 
Ned Andree, project coordinator for Community Collaboration on Climate Change, or C4.
Weatherization is the solution to these problems, but even for those who own, it is often too expensive to take on for those on a limited income. 

C4 began back in 2019, as a collaboration between the city of Grand Rapids and the NAACP.  For the first six months to a year, it was a lot of learning. For Scales, he came to environmental justice work after he traveled with the NAACP to the Chesapeake Bay region there was a “robust conversation about what is our role in environmental and climate justice work. It really uncovered a lot that I wasn’t aware of. I left that convening super empowered to come back and do something in our own community. We [the NAACP] partnered with the Sierra Club and West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum on several events around climate justice.”

From there the Office of Sustainability in Grand Rapids reached out about developing a collaborative. 

“The original vision for C4 was to prioritize and center those community members that have been most disproportionately impacted, and then, after we educate them, empower them with the resources to create their own solutions,” says Scales. “The hope with some of this too, is to eventually be able to advocate for certain policy change that is going to help move some of this work forward on a state and national level as well.”

“We want to build a community where you bring the BIPOC community and those who are marginalized together. One of the cornerstones of our program is this C4 Ambassadorship.  The ambassadors, we resource them, we’re going to give each one of them a $5,000 mini-grant. We’re taking them through a series of experiences, getting them ready to lead a climate justice project in their neighborhood,” says Andree. “We’re providing the resources, they provide the solution. We currently have 14 ambassadors that we gathered. We put out a proposal for our first mini-grant project.” 

For the first project, all the ambassadors will work together to put in a pocket forest at Boston Square Church, pulling up Kentucky Bluegrass and then planting a variety of species native to Michigan. “Could we hire the big construction company that could have five white guys with heavy equipment do the work of 100 neighbors? Sure, but we’re gonna try to have 100 neighbors come in to do the work,” says Andree. “When you and your kids gather Saturday after Saturday and then you see the fruit of your labor, you have ownership.”  

“C4 has declared the year 2023 as the year of action. One hyper-local project at a time, we’re trying to create awareness in the community,” continued Andree, “excite, activate people about doing something, taking action in the community.” 

“This whole environmental racism piece has been able to fly under the radar for so long,” says Scales, “we want to be the catalyst to help change history and really figure out what is the best way to do this in a more equitable way.”

To learn more about the work of C4 or get involved, be sure to visit their website.

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