By Reps. Julia Brownley, Jared Huffman and Mike Levin
Across California, members of our communities are no strangers to the catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis, particularly the devastation wrought by wildfires. In 2018, when over 1.8 million acres in the state burned, the Camp Fire in Northern California officially became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in our state’s history, breaking a record set only a year before with the Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties. These two historic wildfires in back to back years add to the Thomas Fire — the second largest in California history — that tore through communities in Ventura County and Santa Barbara County, leaving many people without homes and to pick up the pieces of their lives.
The reality is that the catastrophic wildfires that California is already experiencing will only become more intense and severe unless we take immediate action to combat the climate crisis. This year, much of the Western U.S., including parts of California, are at an above average risk of wildfires. Firefighters and first responders are already stretched thin by the coronavirus pandemic, further complicating this dire situation.
We also know that climate change and pollution, just like the coronavirus pandemic, harm low-income communities and communities of color first and worst. In California and around the country, Black and Latino communities face disproportionate burdens from pollution that exacerbate existing health inequalities. As we start to rebuild in a smarter, more resilient and more equitable way, we need to invest in a 21st century infrastructure that can withstand the test of time and stand strong against climate-fueled threats.
That is why we need a bold plan to limit the carbon pollution driving the climate crisis. As members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, we were tasked with developing a blueprint for federal climate action and a transition to clean energy. The report, entitled “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America,” if adopted in full, would achieve net zero carbon pollution by 2050, and net negative pollution thereafter — a goal scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
As outlined in the report, we must ensure that we are building with resiliency in mind every step of the way. In California, our Latino community has borne the brunt of many of these devastating wildfires, while federal agencies have not done enough to invest in frontline communities. Now is the time to rectify this injustice, and we can do just that by ensuring that equitable solutions to climate change are accounted for in all stages of federal and local planning.
Part of helping frontline communities become more resilient to the impacts of climate change is bolstering our clean energy economy. Prior to the economic pain caused by COVID-19, the clean energy industry was one of the fastest-growing job creators in the U.S. and employed nearly 3.4 million Americans — nearly three times as many people as the fossil fuel industry. However, a recent report found the clean energy sector has lost over 620,000 jobs, or 18% of its work force, since the start of the pandemic. California was hit especially hard, losing over 109,000 clean energy jobs, a nearly 20% decline. While this is a step backward both economically and in our fight against climate change, we know that re-invigorating our clean energy economy is the right path forward to protecting our health and economic growth.
In California, we know that fighting climate change and growing our economy go hand in hand. As the first state to pass legislation to limit carbon pollution over a decade ago, we have seen how these policies drive innovations in clean energy and energy efficiency. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to harness American innovation and ingenuity to address the climate crisis and build a more equitable country in the process — and we cannot squander it.
For too long, dirty corporate polluters have obstructed efforts to address the climate crisis. But their time is up, and our nation cannot wait any longer to take climate action. That is why we spent the past year working with leaders and experts to develop this Climate Crisis Action Plan. We know that by building a clean energy economy that values workers and advances economic and environmental justice, we can rise to the challenge and tackle the climate crisis head on. By doing so, we can create a more perfect Union. We cannot afford to do anything less.
Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle.