Our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are historically marginalized communities. Neighborhoods with high concentrations of our communities, like Chinatown International District (CID), Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley and neighborhoods in SeaTac, for instance, have a life expectancy years shorter than communities in North Seattle. In the case of the CID and Beacon Hill, ten years shorter. Higher rates of pollution, which come from the industrial sector around Seattle and Tacoma, cars and trucks all converging on our ports, several crossing highways, and airplane pathways directly overhead, play a significant role in the shorter life expectancies in these neighborhoods. Pollution is literally killing us where we live. Carbon emissions driving climate change respect no boundaries, and are also devastating our families in our countries of origin. Pacific Island nations are rapidly losing their land to rising sea levels, destroying their ancestral homelands and in the worst cases, turning their people into climate refugees. Climate change affects our family members in Asia, eroding coastlines, contributing to epic storms, typhoons and floods with major loss of life.
Our communities experience higher rates of asthma, cancer, and upper respiratory disease because of our exposure to pollution, here at home. And it’s not just what’s in our air. Many of our community members rely heavily on fishing from local rivers and streams for a much of their diet. Without cool, clean waters flowing through places like the Duwamish River, fish stocks are low, scarce, and often far too contaminated to be safe to eat.
Throughout our history, people of color have been pushed out of cleaner, healthier places and red-lined and displaced into the neighborhoods hardest hit by pollution and poverty. I-1631 does more than simply reduce pollution. It works to correct these historic inequities by putting frontline communities’ front and center in the solutions we know we need to build in order to start moving away from pollution. We know our communities must be listened to in the conversation about our future. Leaders from communities of color worked to ensure that this initiative will charge the state’s largest polluters for their pollution. At least 35% of all investments will benefit communities most affected by pollution and poverty, and at least 15% of all clean energy investments will help people with lower incomes to transition to a clean energy economy.
That means career training and new jobs in manufacturing, installation, electricians, designers, planners, and everything in between, building new clean energy projects in our own neighborhoods. We can make our homes and businesses more energy efficient, while making our air cleaner and our water healthier. This is a critically important opportunity to take a powerful first step towards a cleaner future.
Change that can truly improve conditions in our community has always involved collaborative leadership. That is why ACRS and APIC joined the largest coalition in state history, including over 120 community of color organizations, labor unions, businesses, health professionals, faith organizations and tribal nations, to support I-1631. We know reducing pollution and beginning to build new and cleaner options for people is a significant challenge. But when we come together we can create a real solution. We have come together to support I-1631, and ask you to join us.
Diane Narasaki is executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) and Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC) of Washington state co-chair.