Climate action will require a bold commitment to equity

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This post kicks off a series dedicated to centering equity and access throughout our organization. Stay tuned for more posts from our policy associate, Janiece Watts, by signing up for our newsletter. 

Last week, the federal government published its fourth National Climate Assessment,  produced and endorsed by 13 federal departments and agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Defense. Its findings are clear: climate change is already happening, and every fraction of additional global warming must be mitigated now, or we risk devastating consequences. The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report underscores this message. Our health, economy, and environment simply cannot wait—and equity must be at the heart of this movement. As recent national disasters have shown, climate change does not and will not impact everyone equally. People of color and under served communities face significant adverse consequences from a warming planet and generally have the least amount of resources to adapt. We must address this disparity. The time is now.

Climate change will hurt developing nations and vulnerable communities first and worst—these communities are also largely people of color, indigenous, and comprised of women and girls. This is already occurring. In the United States, the surge of hurricanes in the Southeast and wildfires in the West have demonstrated the shocking impact that worldwide change to the climate has on our communities. Natural disasters directly impact energy access and reliability, which we tragically witnessed in Puerto Rico last year, following the energy outages after Hurricane Maria and the thousands of deaths that ensued. This moral human failure—and those that may come as our planet warms—must be prevented.

Fortunately, there are actions we can take. Sustainable development and poverty eradication both reduce carbon emissions and tackle inequality. This transformational work can be done with the tools we already have. Through building more pathways to access clean energy, we can ensure that truly no one is left behind in the mobilization to address climate change. We also need to honestly examine how marginalized people and communities have been excluded from these energy innovations and perhaps not unrelatedly, are also being hit hardest by climate change.

Solar arrays for homeowners and electric vehicles are important consumer and technological solutions that can reduce an individual or family’s carbon footprint—and we need to make sure they are affordable for everyone. Community solar gardens and electrified public transportation are a good start, and they also advance the social benefits of equitable access to cleaner energy and better air quality. Additionally, increased demand for renewable energy opportunities will help drive down the cost over the long term, and energy efficiency improves long-term affordability for those households who face the highest energy burden. Fresh Energy is working to ensure that clean energy options across our economy reach the most vulnerable and underserved.

We must also openly recognize that the lack of equity at the foundation of the environmental movement has been a major hurdle to progress on climate change and social justice. These issues negatively build upon each other and are interrelated.  This is environmental justice at its core, and it is within this space Fresh Energy will work to reduce the worst impacts of climate change for all of us. This is both a great opportunity and a serious responsibility. We are committing to a mission of justice, fairness, and representation within the organization, and are laser-focused on integrating this mission into clean energy policy while remaining mindful of energy’s intersections with race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Together, our staff is committed to working internally to build inclusivity and representation into our work culture and challenge each other to think boldly about equity.

This month, our director of energy access and equity, Ben Passer, kicked off an organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion committee to fully embed these goals into our organization across all levels. We are energized by this duty of accountability and are excited to share our journey in a series of reflections. Stay tuned for more, including our official equity statement.