Fighting climate change by uniting for climate justice

Fighting climate change by uniting for climate justice
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Want to learn how to fight climate change by joining forces for climate justice? Take a look at Washington State, where an historically diverse coalition, which includes Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, is spearheading a visionary initiative, Initiative 1631.

Thanks to a successful petition drive by the coalition this summer, Washington voters will decide in November whether to establish the nation’s first direct fee on carbon polluters. The measure would place a $15 fee per ton on the carbon content of fossil fuels used or sold in Washington State and on electricity generated in or imported into Washington. That fee would rise $2 annually until the state successfully lowered carbon emissions to meet its target.

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The funds generated by the fee would be invested in projects for human health and a cool climate, such as construction of new clean-energy infrastructure, creation of new jobs and support for displaced fossil fuel industry workers, protection of air, water and forests, and benefits for disadvantaged and vulnerable communities.

In an op-ed published in the Seattle Timescoauthors Ken Lans, MDpresident of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and Aiko Schaefer, the director of Front and Centered, a statewide coalition of organizations and groups rooted in communities of color and people with lower incomes, highlighted the stark choice between “a healthier cleaner state” and “staying gridlocked with business as usual.”

The co-authorship of the op-ed itself tells you a lot about the organizing being carried out in Washington State. I-1631 is supported by the largest, most diverse initiative coalition in Washington’s history, according to supporters. The coalition includes organizations representing health professionals, environmentalists, scientists, clean-energy supporters, large and small businesses, organized labor, low-income communities and communities of color, faith groups, and tribal nations.

Not surprisingly, Initiative 1631 is fiercely opposed by the fossil fuel industry. Oil companies are funding 99 percent of the “No on 1631” campaign’s funding. As of late September, they had reportedly poured $20 million into a war chest to fill the airwaves and residents’ mailboxes with messages designed to defeat the initiative. 

That’s a lot of money to put toward defeating a state-level initiative. It speaks to the legislation’s potential to transform Washington’s energy sector, make clean energy accessible to often-marginalized communities, and reduce climate-damaging greenhouse gases. Not only would that benefit the people of Washington State, but it would also provide a model for communities around the country looking to implement effective climate policies.  No wonder Big Oil is worried.

NOTE: An earlier version of this misstated the amount of the carbon fee.

Barbara Gottlieb is the Environment & Health Program Director for Physicians for Social Responsibility, www.psr.org.