The Evidence is Clear

Rhiana GunnFrom Rhiana Gunn-Wright, policy director for the nonprofit New Consensus, one of the lead policy writers for the Green New Deal. She was interviewed on and asked about the connections between racial wealth disparity and climate change and how the Green New Deal will address them.

There’s a couple reasons that we see [racial wealth disparity]  connected to the Green New Deal. One is, of course, a moral argument. A lot of the people who are dying from fossil fuel pollution or who are carrying the heaviest burden are people of color, and they’re poor people of color. And likely, when climate change picks up and we see more disasters, more deaths, those are the first people who are on the line. People like to say climate change will kill us all, but the truth is climate change will kill some people first. And so, there’s a moral imperative to make sure that in the green transaction the same people who bear the brunt of our reliance on fossil fuels are not the same people who the green transition is being built on their backs. So that’s one.

And then the second is that income inequality and climate change are linked, not only because we have an extractive economy, but because there’s a growing body of evidence that, especially in rich countries, the higher you have income inequality, the more emissions that you have. The mechanisms are not clear, and there’s lots of theories about it, but the evidence is clear. And so, if you’re going to tackle climate change and tackle it in a way that’s sustainable, you have to be talking about inequity. You have to be talking about racial equity, as well, because those are drivers. Right?

And the ways that we think about addressing that is making sure that the policies are crosscutting, right? And so, say, one of the examples in the bill is upgrading all homes and buildings. You can structure that program, through federal jobs guarantees, through local programs, through incubators and just through the structure of how you split up the work between different types of buildings, to make sure that people of color are benefiting. And another way that we’re constantly thinking about the racial wealth gap is: How do you make sure that this transition brings not only income, but that income can be translated to wealth, particularly for people that are more likely to be unbanked?

So those are the things that we’re thinking about. And those are the reasons we think that it’s incredibly important—right?—to make sure that racial equity is involved. And also, from past mobilizations like World War II and the New Deal, the other thing that we see is, when certain people aren’t involved or included, you see those effects for generations. And we don’t want another set of problems that we’re dealing with just kicking the can down the road.

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