Robert Reich: The case for environmental justice

Reversing both climate change and inequality can be a win-win proposition

Published April 28, 2019 4:00AM (EDT)


This originally appeared on Robert Reich's blog.

Climate change and widening inequality are not two separate issues. They’re intimately connected. And there’s at least one solution to both.

The people who are bearing the brunt of climate change here and around the world are the poor and working class who live in areas increasingly prone to flooding.

Who rely on croplands susceptible to ever more frequent droughts.

Who depend on outdated water and sewage systems, and older roadways and power grids that are falling apart under the strains of more severe weather.

Who live in fragile structures particularly vulnerable to intensifying hurricanes and violent storms.

Whose health is especially compromised by airborne contaminants, infections, and other diseases that are accompanying climate change.

So what do we do?

You often hear that reversing climate change will mean fewer jobs, especially for the poor and working — the very people who are bearing the biggest burden from climate change.

But it’s not true. Clean energy — powered by wind, or solar cells, or water — is growing fast, even as the old fossil-fuel industries decline, and generate fewer jobs.

More than 3 times as many people are already employed generating electricity from solar and wind than from coal, oil, and gas combined.  Wind turbine technician is our country’s fastest-growing occupation.

This transition to renewables is inevitable, in part because of the so-called “beautiful math” of solar power:  Every time the world’s solar power doubles, the cost of panels falls 26%.  This has led to a 99% decline in the cost of solar modules since 1976, and an 80% decline since 2008 alone.

Donald Trump and his republican enablers are afraid of clean energy because it puts power, literally and figuratively, back into the hands of people and communities.

Their attacks on science and on health protections are just efforts to maintain billions of dollars in unjust profits and corporate giveaways for the barons of oil, gas, and coal, and to undermine the urgency and speed of a the transition already underway.

We must not let them.  Reversing both climate change and inequality can be a win-win proposition.

By Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written 15 books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's also co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism."

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