Building Back for Climate Resilience and Equity
By: Shanna Edberg
As we enter the new year, Congress is continuing to consider the transformative Build Back Better Act, a bill that would invest in a number of things including education, childcare, healthcare, and housing. Importantly, it also includes a series of investments in climate action — to reduce pollutants that cause climate change and to help communities bounce back from increasingly severe climate impacts — from worsening storms and floods to wildfires and drought. As a city especially vulnerable to flooding and extreme heat, Baltimore needs this historic investment in climate action.
The ever-increasing chaos and severity we’re observing in our weather systems threatens the most basic human necessities, including access to food, water, and shelter. If sea level rise continues at its current pace, the Baltimore Convention Center will be partially underwater. Increased flooding, also driven by the climate crisis, will destroy more properties throughout the city. What’s more, in Baltimore and throughout the country, the communities that are the most threatened by climate impacts like extreme heat, drought, wildfire, sea level rise, and flooding are the same communities that are most likely to be excluded from the decision-making that can help them protect themselves — or make things worse.
Latino communities in particular have a number of vulnerabilities that make the climate crisis even more threatening: lower rates of health and home insurance, higher rates of poverty, higher rates of outdoor jobs, lack of access to cars and air conditioning, living in close proximity to pollution sources and heat islands, lack of access to green space, lack of emergency services that reach immigrants, and more. Last year, a report by Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress found that Latinos and other communities of color face disproportionately higher rates of the loss and destruction of nearby nature than white communities, making these communities less resilient and healthy.
For these reasons and more, Latinos show greater concern about the climate crisis in polling than the general public, are more willing to take action and more likely to say they will vote for a candidate because of their stance on climate change. A recent poll conducted by BSP Research and Climate Power found 74% of Latinos think climate change is a crisis or a very serious problem. Almost 9 in 10 say climate change should be a priority for President Biden and Congress, and 86 percent support a legislative package that puts America on the path to cut climate pollution in half by 2030 and creates millions of jobs, lowers energy costs and protects the community from pollution and climate change. Moreover, polls from around the country have shown that Latino voters want even more ambitious action: over 8 in 10 support gradually transitioning to one hundred percent of our energy being produced from renewable sources like solar and wind over the next ten to fifteen years.
That is why Latino communities, and all communities of color, need climate action more than ever. We especially applaud the provisions in the Build Back Better Act aimed toward coastal and Great Lakes restoration, pollution cleanup and monitoring, funding for urban parks, natural climate solutions, a Civilian Climate Corps, and creating a Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator that will benefit over-polluted and under-resourced environmental justice communities.
While the Act is not the end of the road for climate action, these provisions will boost much-needed equity in our communities, create jobs, and improve our ability to bounce back from current and future emergencies. That’s why the Build Back Better Act has garnered support from Baltimore’s mayor, Brandon Scott, as well as several of Maryland’s gubernatorial candidates. It also paves the way for more bold action in reducing carbon pollution, while investing in community resilience, local economies, and public health.
There is so much work to be done, if we want to leave our children a better world. The Build Back Better Act will start us down that road. I urge our lawmakers to fight for their constituents’ needs in the Act and to continue working on a collective, American response to the climate emergency we face.
Shanna Edberg serves as the Director of Conservation Programs for Hispanic Access Foundation, a national nonprofit headquarted in Washington, D.C.