When the Sustainability and Climate Action Committee (SCAC) met in November of 2021 they agreed to organize a workshop on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Given the recent influx of new members, the time was ripe to discuss the committee's values and priorities. Among its many roles, the SCAC is responsible for informing and guiding Blaine County's first-ever sustainability and climate action plan. This role requires each member to uphold certain values that are necessary to take effective and equitable climate action. Included in this list of values are equity, diversity, and inclusion. Establishing these values as a foundation of SCAC has allowed its members to move forward with a shared understanding and broader perspective of the Blaine County community.
In February of 2022, Lynne Barker, Blaine County’s sustainability manager and SCAC member, organized a two-day workshop open to all community members and county staff on the topics of Diversity Equity and Inclusion which took place in April of 2022. Michelle Whitney, the founder of Inclusive Idaho, led community members through those two days via a discussion and collaboration-based approach.
The training covered an array of topics and three goals were established at the start:
Learn how to make Blaine County a more inclusive community
Identify and discuss the barriers and challenges to accomplishing goal #1
Develop action-based project ideas for making our community more inclusive and equitable
On the first day of the workshop, participants explored their own thoughts and opinions on what it would take to make the Blaine County community more inclusive and equitable. Whitney prefaced this discussion by teaching us about implicit and explicit biases, how to foster self-awareness of these biases, micro-aggressions, strategies for building inclusive community spaces, and how to confront racial injustices. They explained that intentional connection and authentic communication with underrepresented groups are key to creating inclusive communities, especially at the level of local government. By the end of Day 1, participants had taken a first-hand look at their opinions, where they may have come from, and how to address the biases that impact their ability to contribute to an inclusive and equitable community.
On the second day of the workshop, participants spent most of their time developing projects that would increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Blaine County community. Each group identified a goal, rationale, strategy, DEI perspective, ways to measure progress, and mid-year targets. This part of the training allowed participants to put their ideas and desires for change into concrete strategies and actions. This process resulted in the development of several proposals that have the potential to positively impact our community.
Here are some examples of these project proposals:
To create and implement a county policy requiring all of Blaine Counties' public-facing communication and documents to be available in both Spanish and English.
To improve the Blaine County Recreation Department’s outreach practices by updating their family communication strategies, organizing culturally inclusive events, and translating all communication materials into Spanish.
What does DEI have to do with climate action?
You may be wondering why these ideas are so vital to effective climate action. Effective planning to address climate change can only happen when all community members have a seat at the table. Historically, in the movement to protect the health of our planet, inclusion has not been a priority. Additionally, communities of color are far more likely to live in places that are hardest hit by the effects of our changing climate and toxic pollution.
Climate change is not only an environmental crisis, it is, first and foremost, a humanitarian crisis. While no one on the planet is safe from the impacts of the changing climate, research shows that “Climate change will disproportionately affect people of color and those suffering socioeconomic inequalities.”1
Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community members experiencing poverty, and those experiencing homelessness, will be most exposed to these impacts. Due to many socioeconomic inequalities, they will be the least prepared to adequately respond. Our BIPOC community members are experiencing heat waves, drought, food scarcity, air and water pollution, and flooding (just to name a few) at an alarmingly higher rate compared to their white counterparts.
At Blaine County, we recognize that it is vital to move our climate action planning forward by acknowledging the overt and covert racism that has perpetuated these inequalities for far too long. Climate action planning must be intentionally equitable, inclusive of all cultures and socioeconomic statuses, and free from racism to become an effective tool. In learning about and acknowledging the past we can adequately address environmental racism in our community presently, and in turn, create strategies that work to protect and support all community members equally.