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Climate, COVID and Economic Crisis: A Mandate for Justice
November 13, 2020 | |

Watching the results of the election trickle in last week, I breathed a sigh of relief. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris campaigned on an ambitious climate justice agenda, and a record-breaking number of Americans agreed – the future of our country depends on our ability to aggressively tackle the escalating climate crisis.

This year has made it incredibly clear – the status quo is no longer tenable. Not only are we facing the challenges of the pandemic and escalating economic crisis, this summer was the second hottest ever recorded. Climate-related heatwaves extended for weeks, wildfires burned more than 4.1 million acres in California, and there have been a record number of named hurricanes and tropical storms.  As is too often the case, low-income communities and communities of color disproportionately paid the social, economic and health costs of these crises.

While a platform is not policy, there are reasons to hope the incoming administration can make meaningful progress on some of the most intractable environmental justice challenges of our time.

The administration has committed to:

  • Centering environmental justice in investments to address the climate crisis.
    Not all cities, or even neighborhoods within a city, are equally impacted by the climate crisis. Through the work of our Climate Safe Neighborhoods partnership, we’ve seen first-hand that centering justice in our efforts to address the climate crisis not only mitigates the worst impacts at the local level – it has a profound impact on the future health and well-being of everyone.
  • Investing in community self-determination and marshaling federal resources to support local leaders and organizations.
    At the core of the Groundwork model is a commitment to building the capacity of local leaders to reshape their neighborhoods. There is no shortage of skill or vision – what is lacking is the investment in a community-led vision. An investment in grassroots leaders and locally responsive climate solutions is an investment in real and sustainable change for our nation.
  • Rewriting the 1994 Executive Order on environmental justice.
    The current federal government environmental justice policy is outdated, lacks a vision of a healthy, resilient future for all, and lacks metrics to ensure accountability. Not only has the incoming administration promised to rewrite the environmental justice executive order in partnership with national and local leaders, but they’ve prioritized the development of performance metrics and transparency in reporting on progress – an essential element of any roadmap for justice.

If implemented, these actions have the potential to fundamentally shift the conversation on environmental justice. I am heartened by the bold Biden-Harris agenda, and all of us at Groundwork USA look forward to working with our communities and local, state, and federal partners to advance it with the urgency felt in communities every day.