Opinion | New York Can Win on Climate and Racial Justice

But it’s the details of Luz Velez’s story that bring us back to what really matters in the climate fight. Her health was affected not just by air pollution in her neighborhood but by years of living in a home that had mold, that was not insulated and that she couldn’t afford to fix. Then she connected with PUSH Buffalo’s Warm and Dry program for a comprehensive home remediation. “With the repairs made I went from four doctors down to two, and from 12 meds to four,” Ms. Velez said.

The PUSH Buffalo program reaches about 20 households a year, a fraction of the need on the West Side of Buffalo, where Ms. Velez lives and where 70 percent of its Latinx residents, 50 percent of its black residents and 14 percent of homeowners live near or below the poverty line.

This is an example of why climate policy needs the kind of equity investment that would be required by the Climate and Community Protection Act. With a budget of just $30 million, which reaches only about 9,000 housing units annually, New York’s state’s main program for low-income energy efficiency can barely begin to meet the needs of low-income people across the state. There are about 1.3 million low-income households in New York, with one-third in housing built before 1940, which tends to be the least efficient, the most unhealthy, and the most expensive to repair.

New York’s Legislature should approve passage of the strongest possible plan, and Governor Cuomo should sign it. There is so much at stake for the natural world and humanity’s place within it, but, as leaders collaborating across our respective fields of racial justice and climate advocacy, we recognize that winning on climate means fighting for equity and justice with equal force and commitment. That is exactly the opportunity now before New York’s elected leaders, and now is the time to act.

Heather C. McGhee is a distinguished senior fellow at Demos, a public policy group focused on racial equity advocacy which she ran as president from 2014 to 2018. Bill McKibben, a founder of the climate advocacy group 350.org, teaches environmental studies at Middlebury College and is the author of “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?”

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