In the nitty-gritty, day-to-day work of building a clean-energy economy, it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Namely that, as much as this movement is about moving markets and cleaner electrons, it’s ultimately about people: improving lives and ensuring a livable planet — not just for some, but for all.
After all, we’re not really "saving the earth." We’re saving ourselves.
Consider companies, climate change and social inequity. A case can be made that the three are so inextricably interconnected that we’ll never achieve one without the others. That means building a clean economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty isn’t just a moral and environmental imperative. It’s a significant business opportunity, too.
Take California, for example, both what’s working and what’s not.
It’s no surprise that California is leading the way on advancing some of the country’s most ambitious climate policies — most recently with SB 100, which requires the state to ensure 100 percent of its electricity comes from carbon-free sources by 2045. But the Golden State has also been out ahead on forwarding climate policies that benefit those disproportionately hurt by legacy fossil-fuel energy systems. SB 535, for example, passed in 2012, mandates that 25 percent of the proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade program are invested directly in projects that benefit disadvantaged communities.
And yet, despite California’s climate ambition, low-income communities and communities of color in the state — and elsewhere — continue to benefit the least and suffer the most from a changing climate. Low-income families, who are far more likely to rent their homes and therefore have limited access to solar or efficiency upgrades, pay over half of their income on energy bills — 53 percent, on average, according to the Greenlining Institute's research into energy equity. They also bear the greatest negative health impacts. Sixty-two percent of California residents living within six miles of an oil refinery or cement or power plant are people of color — and their children are four times more likely to have asthma, compared to Caucasian children, missing an average of 1.1 million school days annually, just from asthma alone.
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