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Embrace equity to win on climate goals

Carol Zabin, research director, Center for Labor Research & Education | September 13, 2016

By Carol Zabin and Manuel Pastor

California has taken a historic stride by setting the next generation of targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts — and in the process, a new political coalition has emerged that will be sorely needed in the daunting task of figuring out how to actually meet those goals.

The two landmark climate bills signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown cemented an unexpectedly strong alliance of labor unions, grassroots “environmental justice” organizations and environmentalists. In the face of business opposition, these groups helped pass SB32, a bill to require a 40 percent emissions reduction by 2030, by pairing it with a companion bill, AB197, designed to ensure that emissions reductions and job benefits actually occur in less advantaged neighborhoods.

advancingequityA research report we co-authored analyzes these groups’ concerns and identifies strategies that can build public support for the wide-ranging emissions cuts that must be accomplished in the years ahead.

For environmental justice advocates, the key concerns are that low-income communities of color be identified as locations for environmental clean-up, clean energy projects and good green jobs. Research has shown that incentives for residential rooftop solar and clean cars have gone disproportionately to more affluent people, forcing those left out to advocate separate programs for renters and low-income drivers.

Similarly, labor unions and their allies have been concerned that not all the jobs generated by climate policy are good jobs. The building trades and other unions fear that the nationwide trend toward income inequality will spread within the low-carbon sector, replacing good jobs in conventional energy infrastructure with “green” (clean energy) jobs that do not offer enough “green” (wages) to keep families in the middle class.

A climate equity agenda responds directly to these concerns. We suggest tackling potential pollution hot spots in disadvantaged communities through strict data collection and analysis that assesses the relationship of cap-and-trade expenditures and local emissions, with a trigger for corrective action if excessive pollution is found. Similarly, incentives for households and businesses to invest in low-carbon technologies can reach low-income families if participation is not built around home ownership or other forms of wealth.

While the utility-scale renewables sector has produced career-track, family-supporting jobs, this is not true of all clean energy jobs. Labor and skilled workforce standards, including local-hire provisions, can be an integral component of all emissions-reduction regulations.

Although California’s climate regulations have not resulted in job loss so far, jobs could be at risk as cutbacks go deeper, especially in oil production and refining. Strategies are needed to protect displaced workers and communities, including retraining, community economic redevelopment and environmental remediation. All this is possible and affordable.

Social equity and emissions reductions are not always easy to pair, and we acknowledge that in some cases there are trade-offs. But a clear-eyed analysis of winners and losers can help creative problem-solving to find the sweet spots in which lower emissions, good jobs and community benefits can be achieved simultaneously.

One example is community-scale solar, which involves decentralized, midsize solar projects that are larger and thus lower-cost than solar rooftop on individual homes. Community solar can be located in poor areas, does not require homeownership, and can be contracted to include prevailing wage standards and entry into apprenticeship programs for local residents.

As the Golden State embarks on this phase of climate action, it needs to design climate policy in ways that engage workers and disadvantaged communities. A new, green social contract will ensure that all Californians benefit directly from the clean energy future.

This post originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 12, 2016. You can read it here.

Comments to “Embrace equity to win on climate goals

  1. Hillary Clinton’s most important decision during her presidential campaign is to join with Al Gore to protect the human race from Global Warming.

    The urgency of this goal was maximized when we permanently exceeded 400 ppm atmospheric CO2, which Is a definition of “running out of time.”

    Once again, I urge all UC professors and scholars to join with Hillary and Al Gore to achieve the paramount goal of protecting the human race from Global Warming in 2016.

  2. Prof. Zabin, excellent recommendations but, it shall take an international effort to protect our global environment and quality of life, an effort that the United Nations has failed to achieve for far too long since they can’t even inspire enough cooperation to achieve world peace, end violence and inequalities at local, national and international levels.

    Achieving goals similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is imperative and our own current election cycle is proving that human nature is far to self-destructive to even allow us to produce a rational dialogue among political competitors and between We The People.

    The absolute fact of life today is that current temperature increases and current climate changes demand that we establish global leadership and produce immediately implementable solutions or human nature shall destroy our civilization in this century. And we appear to have no leaders like Churchill and FDR anymore.

    • P.S. Prof. Zabin, I wish to add few more thoughts:

      Until we achieve worldwide equal rights for women, especially including positions of leadership in all social, academic, religious, scientific, political and economic institutions, we do not stand a chance of improving our environment and quality of life ever again. History and time are not on our side.

      We have an awesome opportunity to make a magnificent reboot to achieve equity and environmental advances in 2016 by electing Hillary as POTUS and returning control of the House and Senate to the democratic party.

      It’s really up to women uniting for equal rights during the 2016 elections to make the right things happen at last because the greatest lesson in history is that the uncontrolled amygdala makes men totally responsible for our failures to protect the environment and quality of life throughout the world.

      Whereas women tend to have a larger PFC to control their amygdala and their empathy is far superior due to differences between male and female evolution.

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