It’s impossible to have serious conversations about the impacts of COVID-19 and climate change without centering social justice.
While Colorado residents across the state are experiencing difficulties during this time, not all people are impacted the same.
Much like the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the burdens of climate are not equally shared across people of all ages, races, genders and segments of society.
The social and economic disadvantages that Latinx communities like mine face every day within our state — and across the nation — leave us less able to cope with these burdens than many other groups. A complex array of stresses such as limited access to high-paying jobs, quality health care, safe working and housing conditions and culturally appropriate resources severely affect our communities’ crisis-coping mechanisms.
If COVID-19 has shown us one thing, it’s this: as the impacts of public health crises become more pronounced, the urgency of addressing their disproportionate effects grows with it.
To date, Colorado has taken big steps to meet the urgency of these crises through a range of proactive strategies.
When it comes to climate policies in particular, our state has been especially ambitious. From bills to drive clean energy deployment to programs that promote zero-emission transportation solutions, green building design and cleaner oil and gas operations, current policies put our state on a path toward bold climate action.
The question still remains: is it a path toward justice?
Despite current efforts, Colorado is only on track for a 13% decline in carbon emissions by 2030, a recent report found.
The analysis, conducted by the consulting firm M.J. Bradley & Associates, finds that under present policies, Colorado faces significant challenges in meeting the carbon pollution reduction goals necessary to ensure a healthy climate for all Colorado residents.
Widespread scientific consensus points to reaching net zero-carbon emissions around 2050 in order to avoid dangerous consequences.
Unfortunately, business as usual puts Colorado off track to meet that goal by more than 100 million metric tons. That’s roughly equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by all of Colorado’s power plants, vehicles, buildings, and oil and gas systems over the course of a year.
Such a significant gap raises major alarm bells for all of our communities, especially those most vulnerable.
Far too many Latinx families live each day with disproportionate risks that impact their health and well-being. Compared to non-Latino residents, we are far more likely to be exposed to unhealthy air and toxic pollutants generated from transportation corridors, coal-fired power plants, inefficient and “sick” buildings and oil and gas extraction.
This is environmental injustice at its core.
Failing to act to close the emissions gap necessary to eliminate these heightened risks in the face of climate change will only exacerbate this inequity.
So if business as usual results in disproportionate harm to Latinx communities already suffering from climate impacts, what’s the solution? Working side-by-side with communities like ours to develop innovative, economy-wide policies that put us on track to meet our emission reduction goals while benefiting our most-impacted communities.
We call on legislators, regulators, and decision makers alike to hear our voice and ensure that communities are central to climate conversations — without it, we risk perpetuating a history of systematic oppression overburdening marginalized communities.
With communities front and center, we can reach our science-based climate pollution reduction goals and set an example for climate justice solutions.
Beatriz Soto works as a Latino community outreach and workforce development coordinator in the Roaring Fork Valley.