Climate Change Affects Us All, But Not in the Same Way: A Climate Justice Statement

As a self-proclaimed policy wonk, I was pleased when SB 1000 (Leyva) passed in 2016 requiring California cities and counties to identify vulnerable communities within their jurisdictions and reflect the environmental justice and safety needs of those communities in future planning. As a pragmatist, though, I realize that moving from legislative language to meaningful action can be challenging.

COMM RenoColors KriseldaBautista 2015 copyBuilding on the work of environmental and social justice advocates throughout the state, SBC’s Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Partnership (Sierra CAMP) is taking a first step. Sierra CAMP is finalizing a Climate Justice Statement committing itself and asking its members and partners in the region to begin incorporating climate justice principles into their speech, projects, programs, missions, and decision-making processes.

The concept of “climate justice” revolves around the idea expressed by the Climate Justice Working Group, that while all Californians are impacted by climate change, climate change does not impact all people in the same way. Communities that have experienced continuing social, economic, and environmental inequities – such as people of color, immigrants, people with lower incomes, those in rural areas, and indigenous people – are also disproportionately affected by climate impacts. These same communities are frequently excluded from the policy and funding decisions that determine how climate impacts will be addressed. Climate justice calls for reducing the disparities between these and California’s more affluent communities by prioritizing vulnerable and disadvantaged communities for climate adaptation and mitigation actions and access to available resources to more effectively prepare for, adapt to, and recover from the impacts of climate change.

As outlined by the Disadvantaged Communities Advisory Group – that counsels the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission on development, implementation, and impacts of proposed energy and pollution reduction programs – the impact of climate change on structurally disempowered and low-income communities can exacerbate existing inequities. However, it can also create opportunities for direct action and investment in these same communities to leverage local strengths, knowledge, and capacity.

When asked what climate justice could look like in practice, Sierra CAMP project manager Nikki Caravelli suggests:

…businesses and government entities that operate on the triple-bottom-line principle that the community, the economy, and the environment work best when they work together; government programs that undo centuries of institutional racism and structural bias by helping those who need it most; people respecting the environment because we know that we and others need clean air and water to live collectively. It’s inclusive, it’s inventive, it’s diversity in leadership and power, it’s humanity at its best – supporting and learning from each other, which is how change is made!

Shifting this paradigm in our own region, statewide, and hopefully more broadly over time may seem daunting, but Nikki points out: this is a bold vision, but not a prescription. People may not know initially how best to support climate justice in their organizations. Sierra CAMP is encouraging its members and partners to begin by better understanding climate vulnerability in their own communities and then by looking for ways to weave climate justice concepts and outcomes into their own work.

Sierra CAMP’s Climate Justice Statement is a start: an intention. Sierra CAMP will follow this intention with more concrete actions, such as discussing climate justice in presentations, vetting projects and messaging through a climate justice lens, and communicating successes and failures as case studies that we and our partners can learn from. When Sierra CAMP embodies this commitment in action, then we will be better able to support our members and partners in doing the same for their communities.

Image Courtesy Kriselda Bautista