By Chrisha Bali
For Northwest Asian Weekly
It’s all over the news — increasing incidents of typhoons, tropical storms, and droughts throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands. Many of us have family and friends who are directly impacted by these events.
These events are not random but an effect of climate change.
You don’t have to go far to see the effects of climate change. As residents of Washington state, we have experienced dramatic increases in heat waves, wildfires, and droughts. We have noticed shortages in our water and food supplies. We have also seen an increase in rates of asthma and chronic diseases in our children and the elderly. Unfortunately, our low-income communities and communities of color, including our Asian Pacific Islander communities, are disproportionately affected by these climate change impacts. Our communities must be front and center when developing and implementing solutions.
With that said, not all climate solutions and policies are equal. Doing something right away can actually do more harm than doing nothing at all. Yes, we all want to stop climate change and decrease carbon pollution now, but what good does that do if the policy is not simultaneously improving the health and wellbeing of communities who experience the worst impacts of pollution? In some cases, implementing a policy without including the voices of communities of color and low-income communities can backfire. A recent assessment of California’s climate change bill (AB32), a bill that seemingly decreases greenhouse gas pollution, has found that the state’s worst polluters have increased their emissions of localized toxic air pollutants. These polluters are located in communities where there are higher proportions of residents of color and residents living in poverty. As such, the health of those communities remains at risk. The same thing is happening to people in the International District, South Seattle, and Eastern Washington.
We cannot stand for such injustices.
In Washington state, we must decide if we want to face the same fate when we vote on I-732 in November.
I-732’s claims about being “revenue neutral” have been shown to be false. A Department of Revenue analysis found that I-732 will cut funding for education, health care, and other vital services by $797 million over the next six years. Our state faces a $5 billion deficit and court orders to meet education and mental health needs. I-732 makes this situation worse.
I-732 further squanders opportunities for equity and economic opportunity. There is nothing in the language of the policy to create sustainable, well-paying jobs to support this new clean-energy economy.
There are no provisions for compliance flexibility or energy-efficiency incentives on businesses that are taxed. Some businesses may simply leave Washington, leaving many people without jobs, while polluting another community in a different state. A more effective climate policy will be able to reduce carbon emissions and reverse climate change, while also creating family-wage jobs, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, investing in areas hardest hit by pollution, and providing a “Just Transition” for workers and communities.
While I-732’s “Working Families Tax Exemption” attempts to address the impacts that climate change and the green-economy has on communities of color and low-income communities, it is imperfect. The tax exemption provides less than half of vulnerable communities with relief from increased energy costs during the transition to a green-economy. People who are already struggling to make ends meet with our current energy system can hardly be expected to cope with the expensive price of using low-carbon alternatives. Our communities need investments and jobs to make an equitable transition to a clean-energy economy.
Yes, we need to act on climate, but it is going to take a solution that works for everyone. We don’t have the time for “pass-it-now, fix it later” experiments. We owe it to our communities and ourselves to get it right the first time.
Front and Centered, a leading racial and economic justice organization dedicated to climate justice, developed the Principles for Climate Justice. These principles state that a good climate policy should:
- be responsive to the communities most harmed.
- be accountable to the most impacted communities.
- charge major polluters carbon fees that drive down greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.
- cover its own costs, including workforce transition and support for people with lower incomes.
These priorities are reflected in the Climate Action Policy of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. Visit jobscleanenergywa.com to learn more.
Chrisha Bali is a Filipino American graduate student and community organizer who resides in Renton, Washington. She is studying health policy at the UW School of Public Health. She is currently an Environmental Policy Intern at ACRS where she advocates for environmental justice among low-income communities and communities of color.