21 May How economic equality and climate action can both flourish
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently announced environmental agenda OneNYC is further evidence that climate sustainability and poverty alleviation can go hand in hand. Amongst other priorities, the plan will leverage green infrastructure and energy efficiency investments to create jobs and training opportunities for less fortunate New York people, retrofit every city building with energy efficiency initiatives by 2025 and include a comprehensive study of commercial waste zones that could reduce inefficiencies and create better working conditions and wages.
Based on actions from around the world, there are a number of initiatives that can be implemented in order to reduce carbon emissions, improve air quality and redistribute taxation revenue from fossil fuel companies to the poor and middle class in the US. Firstly, establishing a carbon tax could facilitate the redistribution of funds to those most in need. Discouraging emitters through taxation can assist the climate change fight and generate monies that could be rebated to low income taxpayers and invested in social programs. Given that particulate air pollution predominates skylines in low income, minority and inner city areas, investing in such programs can yield significant benefits.
Secondly, eliminating the tax deduction for mortgage interest could save $70 billion per year and reduce the likelihood of people buying larger homes than they need and discouraging urban sprawl. Urban sprawl requires new roads to be built (at the cost of trees/forests) and longer commutes, so the residents’ carbon footprints are larger. Some of the monies from this could be spent on affordable housing, and to support developments that are close to mass transit systems, which provide greater access to jobs, education and public services.
The US Government currently doesn’t have access to another significant revenue source as a result of tax subsidies for oil, gas and coal companies. Senator Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison have proposed a Bill entitled the “End Polluter Welfare Act of 2015” that would remove a number of these subsidies and save approximately $135 billion over a decade. This bill would also raise the leasing rates to drill for oil and gas and mine for coal on Federal land and offshore to reflect current market prices, or they could be raised further to fully reflect the costs of pollution from burning fossil fuels extracted from public land. This could also raise tens of billions per year.
The US has been aggressively pursuing a number of options to address climate change over the last few years, however now they are also now prioritising options that also address poverty alleviation, which as we know is critical given that the poorest people are most vulnerable to climate change and its impacts. When we think about it, considering these two issues together rather than separately makes perfect sense, given that climate change doesn’t and won’t respect countries’ borders, just like air pollution on which I also write blogs.
I find it interesting that the profile of air pollution seems to be higher as a result of its frequently being discussed as part of climate change, in which of course it legitimately plays a part. Air pollution, as briefly mentioned above, tends to be a more significant problem in lower socio-economic areas, and through viewing it and climate change as a human rights or equity issue, I believe that this is the best driver for action. We need to acknowledge that if we were less fortunate than we are, we would hope (and possibly expect) those who were more fortunate and able to do their best for our sake as well as theirs.