Green For All and The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Few of us can afford extra expenses. And yet every day we all are paying a high cost for the effects of climate change, and likely don’t even know it. More and more often, what we used to call “natural” disasters aren’t natural at all. They are the costly results of man-made decisions that allow pollution to adversely affect our planet’s temperature, atmosphere and weather. An issue that once seemed of little consequence in our daily lives is now hitting closer to home.
When you’re paying more for heat and air conditioning to stay comfortable during “record high or low” temperatures, you’re paying for climate change. Or when the cost of fruit, vegetables and other food staples goes up because of severe droughts and floods in America’s agricultural zones, you’re paying for climate change. And those of us who’ve had the devastating misfortunate of losing loved ones and homes even to hurricanes, super storms and other natural disasters that seem to occur more frequently know that the costs of climate change are far too high.
For a lot of us, we reluctantly can grin and bear the added expenses. But for far too many of us who can’t make ends meet, this extra strain on resources is the difference between medicine or life-threatening emergency room visits; food on the table or hunger; a roof over our heads or homelessness.
These grave consequences of climate change have put low-income and people of color on the frontlines as those hit first and worst by pollution and the extreme weather it produces. Communities of color have been suffering the health effects of climate-altering pollution for far too long. Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal plant — one of the biggest sources of carbon pollution in America. That might help explain why African-American kids have a much higher rate of asthma: 1 in 6, compared with 1 in 10 nationwide.
Almost 1 year ago, President Obama released his climate action plan. Under the plan, EPA is taking commonsense steps to cut carbon pollution from power plants. Climate change fuels storms like superstorm sandy- they are more intense and frequent. Storms like this don’t just damage buildings and bridges, they threaten public health too.
Superstorm Sandy reminded us of the lessons we learned from Hurricane Katrina—neighborhoods with the fewest resources have a harder time escaping, surviving and recovering from natural disasters. Nationally, African Americans, who are more likely to live in coastal areas, are at greater risk for displacement from flooding and sea level rise. They’re also more vulnerable to heat-related deaths.
Fortunately, we have the power to turn things around by developing practical solutions that help people combat climate change and poverty at the same time. One of the best ways to combat climate change is to expand jobs in clean energy and make sure disadvantaged communities have a shot at them. Promoting jobs in energy efficiency and wind and solar to expand America’s use of clean energy is essential.
At the same time, we need to prepare vulnerable communities to respond to the extreme weather and climate disasters that lie ahead. We need to create climate-resilience plans that strengthen our ability to thrive economically and environmentally so that we can leap forward and thrive after the next hurricane, blizzard or flood – not just bounce back and survive.
For instance, these plans need to make the investments necessary to upgrade and repair our crumbling infrastructure — from building seawalls that protect shoreline communities to fixing our storm-water systems. They also need to cultivate economic health and support a strong social fabric in the neighborhoods that are hit hardest.
Right now, the EPA and Green For All are taking action. We’re spreading the word and helping college students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) understand how they can take action on climate change. We’re also hosting community events across the country so people can hear from national and local leaders on the challenges climate change poses locally and the solutions we can take to address them.
In the midst of all the costs we currently incur – rent, car insurance, utility bills, rising food prices – we can’t afford to delay action on climate change. It’s just too costly and destructive, especially for our most vulnerable. So spread the word. Let’s bring the issue of climate change to the dinner table. We need to build cleaner, healthier and more resilient communities. We can either pay a little more now, or pay a much too important price later.
Gina McCarthy is the Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Nikki Silvestri is the Executive Director of Green For All – a national organization building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.