‘Climate change is a racial justice issue’
Viewpoints: Underresourced communities need a comprehensive and equitable model to cope with climate change and build thriving, resilient communities, writes Emi Wang, associate director of capacity building for The Greenlining Institute.
Editor's note: Our monthly Viewpoints series invites guest authors from outside of Wells Fargo to share an important perspective related to their work. Today, we welcome Emi Wang, associate director of Capacity Building for The Greenlining Institute.
Decades of environmental racism and redlining — the illegal practice of denying financial services and investments based on race — have saddled communities of color with the worst pollution and fewest resources to cope with the effects of climate change. In South Stockton, California, the legacy of redlining and environmental racism lingers. The largely Latinx, Black, and Asian American neighborhoods were devastated by a crosstown freeway that split communities and added to the pollution burden from heavy industry and the Port of Stockton. Today, 93% of residents in this region are within the top 10% of the most environmentally burdened census tracts in California.
In addition, historic systemic disinvestment combined with the city of Stockton’s 2012 bankruptcy has left these neighborhoods with deteriorating physical infrastructure and a high concentration of poverty and unemployment, leaving them especially vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat and increasing pollution from the port.
Government responses to injustices like these in cities like Stockton tend to be siloed and designed with partial community involvement, but are an integral part of the needed solution. Underresourced communities need a comprehensive and equitable model to cope with climate change and build thriving, resilient communities.
No one knows better than community members themselves what their neighborhoods need, yet more community voices need to center the decision-making processes that impact their daily lives.
South Stockton’s history is a prime example of why climate change is a racial justice issue, and why leaders cannot address the former without grappling with the latter. Over our nearly 30-year history, The Greenlining Institute has passed policies to tackle the lingering effects of redlining, and we are actively engaged in the development of the Transformative Climate Communities, or TCC, program.
TCC is a forward-thinking, new climate action model that aims to build prosperous, resilient, and thriving communities. It puts frontline communities in charge by giving them the power and resources to fight climate change while creating healthier and economically resilient communities. TCC also requires projects to create well-paying jobs and economic opportunities for residents and an anti-displacement strategy so residents can reap the benefits of their hard work without getting pushed out.
Only five years since the establishment of the TCC program, we’re already starting to see progress, which we evaluated recently in Fighting Redlining and Climate Change with Transformative Climate Communities. This evaluation included four detailed case studies from the following areas in California: Ontario, East Oakland, the Northeast San Fernando Valley, and Stockton.
In Stockton, The Greenlining Institute worked with local residents, community leaders, and Mayor Michael Tubb’s office to develop a TCC project. The coalition that emerged, called Rise Stockton, has received almost $11 million to begin implementation. And, we are able to support the implementation of many promising TCC projects thanks to grant support from Wells Fargo.
Through a robust community engagement process, Stockton residents created a Sustainable Neighborhood Plan identifying their own community’s priorities, including improved streetscapes, installing solar power, ensuring energy and water efficiency upgrades, increasing food security, and building out the city’s urban tree canopy. In all, 800 homes will receive water and energy efficiency upgrades. Along with local youth who have been trained to do the work, city staff and volunteers will plant 1,750 trees, and solar power systems will be installed at four multifamily affordable housing sites, as well as for 108 low-income, single-family homeowners. The TCC model in Stockton shows how investments can transform a community when those investments are rooted in equity and community leadership.
Investments can transform a community when those investments are rooted in equity and community leadership.
As California and other states grapple with the issue of climate change and its devastating impacts, community leaders continue to point to the fact that we can’t afford to keep doing what we’ve been doing if we want to make meaningful change. Creating and facilitating new models for community-led ownership over climate action plans delivers impactful benefits to the community while also reducing carbon emissions.
As we commemorate the 52nd Earth Day, it’s time to change the conversation around what climate action looks like and disrupt business as usual. We can move toward our climate goals while also empowering communities to build a healthy, thriving future based on their own priorities. We can tackle systemic racism and climate change. We don’t have to choose.