By Chione Flegal, managing director, PolicyLink
Tomorrow launches a week of global action and gatherings to deepen commitment and accelerate action to tackle climate change. Around the world, indigenous people, frontline communities, and their allies, will be gathering in thousands of cities and towns to demand that our leaders commit to building a fossil free world that puts people and justice before profits.
This call to action comes at a critical time for California, which is why PolicyLink will be joining partners in our home state to Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice! While California has been lifted up as a leader on climate policy and inclusion, the reality is that for low-income communities and communities of color, we have a long way to go to deliver on equity and ensure that all Californian’s can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.
Today, approximately one third of our state’s residents, more than 14 million people who are disproportionately of color, are living at or below 200 percent of the poverty level. By just about every health indicator (asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity) communities of color fare worse than their white counterparts. For decades studies have told us that people of color are disproportionately exposed to harmful air pollution and a recent national study found that the pollution exposure disparity between White and non-white communities in California is among the starkest in the nation. In fact, a report by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment found that one in three Latinos and African Americans live in census tracks ranked as having the highest pollution burden and vulnerability in California. In contrast one in 14 Whites live in these census tracts.
These disparities are not accidental. They are the result of historic and ongoing racial bias and discrimination in policy and practice that have segregated people of color in communities that lack the basic characteristics of a healthy place, have cut individuals and entire communities off from economic opportunity, and have used our political and justice systems to isolate and criminalize people of color.
Climate change, and the devastating impact it is already having on low-income communities and communities of color is another manifestation of these structural inequities. While California has made some important strides in addressing climate change we have not done enough to ensure that our policies advance equity and climate justice. It is time for California to step up to this challenge.
· Transition to 100 Percent Renewable Energy. California has led the nation in its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, our state institutions continue to put forward policies, investments, and programs that perpetuate our dependence on fossil fuels. The time for fossil fuels is over. For too long our communities and our planet have suffered the negative consequences of fossil fuel extraction, refining, transport, burning, and disposal. California needs to join Indigenous and environmental justice leaders to accelerate a full transition to a fossil free clean energy future.
· Build Community Resilience. Reducing carbon emissions is critical to slowing and minimizing the impact of climate change but climate change is already here, and low-income communities and communities of color are suffering the consequences. California needs to move beyond thinking about climate adaptation as disaster recovery and needs to tackle the systematic and structural inequities our communities experience. This will require significant, immediate, and sustained investment of public resources to reduce social, economic, and health disparities and ensure that all communities have the physical infrastructure, social institutions, and economic opportunities required to thrive before, after, and despite climate change impacts.
· Ground Solutions in Community Leadership. The people closest to our State’s challenges have the solutions to solve them. When the voice, wisdom, and experience of impacted communities drive policymaking processes, profound transformations happen. Policymakers need to partner with impacted communities to eliminate the climate gap and secure a future where all can flourish.
Join us in San Francisco tomorrow, or in your own community, as we call on our elected leaders to commit to a just and fair transition to 100 percent renewable energy.