When you think of climate campaigners, David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Leonardo Di Caprio may come to mind. In the UK, the environmental industry is considered one of the least racially diverse, and more people from ethnic minorities are encouraged to join it.
“I didn’t feel that I belonged to the environmental movement. I saw it as a very bright space and somewhere that didn’t exist for me,” says Dominique Palmer.
Activist Dominique produces content for social media, speaks publicly and writes about the climate.
The 23-year-old has just returned from the United Nations environmental meeting, COP27, in Egypt, but says growing up in London, she never imagined herself doing any of this.
“I didn’t realize that some of the issues, such as asthma and air pollution that I faced growing up, were related to environmental issues,” she says.
Representation and access
Dominique sees a disconnect between the black community and the climate industry in the UK and feels there are a number of reasons behind this:
“If you don’t see yourself represented from the beginning, I think it separates a lot of people.”
African and Caribbean countries are disproportionately located in parts of the world that are vulnerable to climate hazards, hurricanes and floods.
Despite this, the UK’s environmental sector is the second least diverse industry in the country – just after farming.
Just under 5% of environmental professionals identify as black, Asian or from other ethnic minorities, compared to around 12% across all professions in the UK, according to the report on racial diversity in environmental professions.
Dominique thinks that access to nature could also be a reason for this.
“I didn’t feel connected to natural spaces, especially living in the UK. This is true for many black people, especially in cities that don’t have access to green spaces,” she says.
“Sometimes it seems like a question that doesn’t really exist for us when it’s connected and connected to our whole life.
“But there are so many incredible, black-led groups now working to address that gap.”
Listen to the latest If You Don’t Know podcast to hear more from black climate activists and also find out who were the first black people to live in Britain.
Some work has been done to try to increase representation, with the government launching Race For Nature – a project as part of its Kickstart scheme for 16-24 year olds on universal credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment.
It mainly places young people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds on work placements in environmental organisations.
“I thought it would be quite normal,” says Franceska Fisher, who took part in the scheme and joined the student environmental charity, SOS UK, last year.
“But when my company saw climate change first hand, it’s great to see that they mean what they say.”
Fast forward to the present day and Franceska now works in the same company.
“It’s nice to see that it wasn’t a kind of understanding. It was really: ‘No, we want you here, we want to see you improve here, we want to see progress here’, ” she says.
What advice does she have for anyone interested in working in the climate industry?
“Young black people need to understand that there are more opportunities outside of the main jobs that we see.
“The environmental sector is looking for people of color to join their organizations, so they too can diversify and change the way their companies are run.
“So really just go for it, there are so many opportunities out there,” she says.
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