Advancement Project California The Best Resistance is Our Collective Success

Climate Justice is Racial Justice

by: Diana Benitez, Leila Forouzan and Yvonne Yen Liu

Earlier this week, President Trump quietly disbanded the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment, a group of climate policy experts and scientists tasked with bridging scientific findings around climate change with federal agencies. While this move may not have drawn the most media attention or public backlash, it sends a clear statement that climate change and scientific evidence of its effects on communities of color are not priorities for this administration. Scientists predict that the world will warm by another two to six degrees celsius by the end of this century.  While rising temperatures will affect quality of life all over the world, it is important to acknowledge that research shows that communities of color and low income populations disproportionately bear the brunt of climate change. In 2009, our partners at the USC Program on Environmental and Regional Equity (USC PERE), including Dr. Manuel Pastor and other researchers coined the term “climate gap” to describe this concerning trend.  Not only are people of color subject to the most harmful environmental conditions, they are also the most vulnerable to extreme weather events.

This past June, the federal government announced its intentions to pull out of the Paris Agreement, one of the most historic global climate agreements aiming to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  Local efforts at climate change abatement are even more imperative, especially from a racial equity perspective. Fortunately, many governors, mayors, and communities have taken action at the local level by declaring their commitment to meeting emission cut targets on their own terms.

California has been leading American climate change policy for decades but has not focused on easing its effects on people of color. In 2016, our state mandated that all cities include an environmental justice element in their general plans to identify and mitigate health risks related to land use, and promote civic engagement in communities adversely impacted by the environment.   Disadvantaged communities as defined by the state are communities with a combination of economic, health, and environmental burdens.  The cities of Chula Vista and Compton have already adopted an Environmental Justice Element. With the legislature back in session, Kevin De Leon’s bill, the California’s Clean Energy Act of 2017 (SB 100) will be going up for vote soon. If approved, this act will set policies and benchmarks to have 100 percent clean energy in the state by 2045 and will once again put California at the forefront of climate justice.

At the city level, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, along with over 300 other U.S. Mayors, adopted their own Paris Agreement to continue moving forward with the goal of reducing our emissions. The Mayor championed sustainability with the release of the first Sustainable City pLAn in 2015 to reduce LA’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.  In South Los Angeles, a group of community organizations developed “The People’s Plan for equitable Development” that aims to create affordable housing, support local workers and businesses, promote community health and wellness, and strengthen community leadership in the land use planning process . Specific recommendations on health and climate change include prohibiting oil extraction in communities, increasing access to public and open spaces, and protecting air quality by reducing emissions.

At Advancement Project California, we believe that efforts to slow climate change and reduce its effects on low-income people of color must continue locally and statewide through data analysis and advocacy with communities. To illustrate the “climate gap” in California, our Centralized Research Department created an app (http://ow.ly/qzL330dHsZs) that explores who is most affected by rising temperatures caused by climate change. This app shows the correlations, or links, between population characteristics and the number of high heat days (over 100 degrees) in the past. We found that people of color and those residing in low-income communities (less than 200% poverty) are far likelier to live in counties with more high heat days than in counties with fewer such days. The percentage of population with diabetes is also connected to high heat days, although less so than race/ethnicity and poverty.

This simple analysis affirms the emerging narrative that people of color and low-income populations are bearing a disproportionate burden of the effects of climate change in California. We hope that data visualizations like this can strengthen and support community and local government efforts focused on environmental justice like “The People’s Plan”, or general plans adopted by municipalities.


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