Mayors’ commission links climate change, social justice

Jeff vonKaenel

I went to the Dec. 2 Mayors’ Commission on Climate Change public hearing without knowing the agenda.

I knew that the purpose of the commission created last year by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon was to develop “a common vision and set of strategies for both cities to achieve Carbon Zero by 2045.” And I knew that the mayors had assembled an all-star team of commission members, including the heads of all of the regional government environmental agencies and other key community leaders from Raley's, the United Way and Sacramento State University. To head the commission, they drafted the former CEO of CalPERS, Anne Stausboll. The firepower of the commission is overwhelming.

But so is its task. Two cities, one large and one small, are working together to set the standard for other American cities on reducing greenhouse gases. It's a wonderful goal for those of us who like living on our planet.

Then I heard the agenda for the meeting: Equity in the context of climate change. I wondered: Isn't solving climate change a tough enough problem, without adding social equity into the equation?

But the speakers—including Jose Bodipo-Memba, director of sustainable communities for SMUD, and Alex Ghenis from the World Institute on Disability—made a strong case for linking climate change and economic justice, arguing that efforts to address global warming must benefit all residents, especially the poor, communities of color and those who have historically borne the brunt of climate impacts.

Throughout the two-hour hearing, speakers had smart, cost-effective plans to make things better for those in need while helping save the planet. For instance, Sacramento has a wonderful tree canopy that reduces energy costs, absorbs carbon and increases property values in certain parts of the city, like my Land Park neighborhood. But we have a crappy tree canopy in some poorer parts of town. One of the proposals was to plant an additional 550,000 trees by 2045, giving priority to marginalized communities.

Another idea was to develop more urban farming on vacant lots, rooftops, and small farms to help with greenhouse gas reduction and to provide more healthy food to those in need, along with a community-wide program to reduce and compost food waste. Part of this program would have our unused backyard fruit and vegetables ending up at food banks instead of the landfill.

Providing more support for Regional Transit is key for both climate change and economic justice. Having people get from point A to point B without a car should be the centerpiece of the commission.

At the core of many of the carbon reduction plans was the use of local labor. All of the tasks—planting trees, driving buses, recycling food waste, putting in solar units and installing insulation—require local workers. These are good jobs that will not require a four-year college degree.

The climate commission's proposals would give our local economy an extra boost. Money that is currently being sent overseas to oil and coal producers would instead go to people in our own community, and then be spent in our stores and our restaurants. The resulting local tax revenue would support our schools, our hospitals and other local infrastructure.

The Mayors' Commission on Climate Change can only succeed with widespread community support and involvement. It deserves our support, as does the planet.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.