Climate change poses one of the greatest threats to social, economic and racial justice here in Washington state and across the world. And it’s happening right here, right now. Our jobs, health and communities are the prices we pay for escalating climate impacts like polluted air, severe weather and drought. But not all of us are impacted the same. Communities of color and those with lower incomes are the first and worst impacted by the brunt of global warming. That’s why getting it right — with equitable, inclusive policies is — so important. Initiative 732, created by the group Carbon Washington, fails this test and lacks the grassroots coalition to tackle the most pressing and interrelated issues of our time: climate and equity.
Communities of color and lower-income communities are experiencing asthma in higher rates, increasingly polluted neighborhoods and income loss — especially workers in frontline industries and in farmlands. They are economically barred from accessing clean energy, transportation and housing. Even worse, these communities have contributed the least to this crisis, and the fossil-fuel industry is holding hostage proven solutions that align climate advocates with movements fighting for economic and health justice. Winning will take both the organizing strength and policy brainpower that only an inclusive campaign can achieve.
Last year, a community of organizations, including the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, Community-to-Community, Got Green, El Centro De La Raza, the Latino Community Fund, OneAmerica, Puget Sound Sage and the Washington Community Action Network, came together to hold fossil-fuel industry climate polluters accountable for addressing social, economic, health and food justice. This past January, we helped form an inclusive statewide coalition, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, with a mission that includes equity. Our diverse coalition seeks action to reduce pollution, create green jobs and invest in communities of color and lower incomes.
We have grounded our position on climate justice through a set of shared principles to help shape and recognize good policy. Equity is the first principle — making sure people of color and those with low incomes have access to the same voice and opportunities. The second principle is that people of color and those with lower incomes receive net-environmental and economic benefits, and the third is for accountability and transparency, which requires comprehensive engagement and oversight by these communities.
Carbon Washington’s Initiative 732, crafted without inclusive input, fails to equitably reinvest revenue from pricing carbon pollution. It relies on a flat payout using the same regressive sales tax structure that has made our state dead last in fairness. Put simply, Carbon Washington confuses equity with treating everyone the same. It does carve out a slice for the lower-income with its Working Families Rebates, an important unfunded tool. But working families are funded the same as preferential industry giveaways, which won’t help workers. Justice should be the main meal, not a side dish. Communities of color and lower-income people understand justice, and like the climate, they can’t wait any longer.
Together, we can do better, and we will. Climate policy must significantly reduce carbon pollution now. A successful and equitable policy centers investments on accessible alternatives to fossil fuels, a just transition for workers’ and communities’ needs and participation. Without it, we simply won’t win.
As leaders working for racial and economic justice, we invite you to join our movement and campaign for action on climate justice now. Global warming, guarded by the fossil-fuel industry, will accelerate racial and economic disparities. Proposals like Initiative 732 mask this reality. Together we can ensure equity is at the center of the climate movement.
Contact Aiko Schaefer, coordinator of Communities of Color for Climate Justice, at [email protected] to learn more.
Contributing writers: Jill Mangaliman, Got Green; Rebecca Saldaña, Puget Sound Sage; Mauricio Ayon, Washington CAN; Rich Stolz, OneAmerica; Tony Lee, API Coalition; Estela Ortega, El Centro de la Raza; and Peter Bloch Garcia, Latino Community Fund.