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On Martin Luther King’s 90th birthday, a renewed commitment to climate justice

Greg Nash

Tuesday marks the 90th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s birth. Over the intervening decades, America has made real progress toward greater justice. But as Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And now is the moment to rededicate ourselves to justice when it comes to one of the most urgent civil rights issues of our time: climate change.

In that spirit, we are joining members of the Justice First movement for two events in Washington, D.C. this week to advocate for environmental justice, 100 percent clean energy, and forest protection across the South.

{mosads}As sea levels rise, tropical storms become more severe, and “hundred-year floods” occur every few years, Southerners — including those living in some of the nation’s most disadvantaged communities of color — are suffering on the front lines of America’s climate crisis. In cities, children are finding it harder to breathe as temperatures rise and air quality suffers. In rural areas, families that depend on agriculture and forestry are suffering as trees die and crops fail because of heat stress, extreme weather, and increased prevalence of pests.

We are gratified to hear so many members of the 116th Congress advocate for bold action on climate change. But make no mistake: the time for talk is over. The time for action is now. We must transition to a sustainable, clean energy economy for all.

We know what we need to do: we must wean ourselves from fossil fuels and protect natural areas like forests that absorb carbon dioxide. We can do this in a way that makes life better for all Americans, regardless of race, income or zip code. By moving to 100 percent clean energy and putting justice first, we can limit global warming while creating green-collar jobs in every community, and building a healthier, more sustainable, more equitable society. And we can do so in a way that leaves no one behind – in a way that helps people who worked in the oil, coal, and gas industries to find good jobs in the fast-growing clean energy sector.

Moving to clean energy makes sense. In 2017, more money was invested in new solar projects than in new coal and gas power plants put together. In 2018, we saw the largest annual increase in renewable generation capacity in history. In state after state, building new solar and wind plants is now cheaper than running existing coal-fired power plants, and more than 100 cities have pledged to work toward 100 percent clean energy.

Americans are finding innovative ways to put the power of clean energy in the hands of communities that need it most. In Buffalo, N.Y., a low-income neighborhood of color turned an abandoned school into affordable solar-powered housing for seniors. In Dillon County, S.C., a 200,000-panel community solar farm provides clean, affordable energy to over 1,200 homes.

But still, greenhouse gas emissions are rising at a time when the world’s top scientists tell us we have to slash those emissions. They need to fall by 45 percent over the next twelve years if we want to avoid widespread health problems, poverty, and destabilized lives due to increasing droughts, heat waves, and flooding.

{mossecondads}While climate change threatens every American, study after study shows that low-income families and people of color bear a disproportionate burden. These communities are hit harder and more often by the kinds of natural disasters to which climate change contributes. Flooding from recent hurricanes has been worse in low-income, minority-majority neighborhoods, for example – and those same neighborhoods have taken the longest to recover. These communities are also worst-hit by the health effects of fossil fuel production. Seventy-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Black children suffer from asthma at almost twice the rate as white children, and are four times as likely to die from it.

We need a new era of climate justice, and the communities most affected by climate change must have prominent seats at the table as we usher in this new era. All Americans deserve to share in the benefits of clean energy, including lower utility bills, access to well-paying, green-collar jobs, and healthier air and water.

Dr. King hit the nail on the head when he said, “All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.” We must protect the one Earth God gave us. Now is the time for Washington to do what is right for all people; we will be driving home that message this week and in all the weeks to come.

Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee currently serving his second term representing the 4th District of Virginia. Rep. McEachin is the co- founder and co-chair of the Congressional United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force. The Rev. Leo Woodberry is pastor of Kingdom Living Temple in Florence, S.C.; executive director of the New Alpha Community Development Corporation; and a leader of the Justice First movement.

Tags clean energy Donald McEachin Environmental justice

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