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Racism Is Persistent in the Climate Crisis. Biden Says He’ll Change That

Part of President Biden’s sweeping action on climate change will include tackling America’s race problem.

Under a $2 trillion proposed action plan, Biden’s climate team is focused on reducing emissions, and creating jobs. That, the White House promises, will come by way of investments in low-income and minority communities. These are some of the areas most impacted by environmental issues and the climate crisis.

According to the Washington Post, the President plans to make tackling America’s persistent racial and economic disparities “a central part of his plan to combat climate change, prioritizing environmental justice for the first time in a generation.”

“Our urgent reduction of emissions is compelled by public conscience and by common sense,” climate envoy and former secretary of state John F. Kerry, said at this week’s U.N. climate event.

“President Biden knows that we have to mobilize in unprecedented ways to meet a challenge that is fast accelerating, and he knows we have limited time to get it under control.”

Communities of Color

The President is expected to sign an executive order addressing equity and the climate on Wednesday. It will establish an interagency council on environmental justice. And it will also announce the creation of an office of health and climate equity within the Health and Human Services Department. Even the Justice Department will get its own office for environmental justice issues.

The plan is part of the Biden administration’s efforts to lift up Black, Latino, and Native American communities. Not only are they most impacted by climate change, but they’re also hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Already poor air-quality in many of these communities means higher levels of pre-existing conditions like asthma and respiratory illnesses. These can increase the likelihood of severe complications from the covid-19 infection. Low-income communities have some of the highest covid-19 infection and death rates.

For communities already struggling economically, 2020 was one of the toughest years in modern history. An executive climate plan that develops environmentally-focused infrastructure in these communities could pivot low-income regions into prosperous eco hubs.

Part of that includes a shift away from coal and fossil fuels. “People have been in pain long enough. We are not going to ask for sacrifice,” White House Climate Coordinator Gina McCarthy said at the National Conference of U.S. Mayors last weekend. “And if we fail to win the heart of middle America, we will lose.”

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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Justice Commitments

Since taking office last week, Biden’s made moves supporting aggressive climate action. On day one in office, he rolled back Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Like the Dakota Access pipeline, it disproportionately impacts low-income communities and Native American reservations. He also rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, a move the administration says will usher in millions of American jobs over the next decade. Many of those jobs would be within communities of color and low-income areas.

“The executive order will help to lay out a clear path to implementing President Biden’s climate and justice commitments,” Cathleen Kelly, a fellow who focuses on energy and environment at the Center for American Progress, told the Post. “It will get the gears turning in each agency across the federal government.”

Biden has long contended that environmental justice is a basic human right. His new climate plan lays out an aggressive net-zero carbon emissions target that would be among the world’s most ambitious.

The focus on lifting up communities of color follows an executive order on equity signed last week by the President. “We have never fully lived up to the founding principles of this nation, to state the obvious, that all people are created equal and have a right to be treated equally throughout their lives,” the President said in a speech earlier today speaking to his racial equity plan. It includes directives to the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs and Department of Health and Human Services in addressing xenophobia.

“We need to open the promise of America to every American. And that means we need to make the issue of racial equity not just an issue for any one department of government; it has to be the business of the whole of government.”

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