Here in California, where I live, we recently experienced a surreal, terrifying climate reality. We spent the day with orange skies, dark as night, with the sun blocked by ash. People are losing their lives, their homes, their businesses to record-breaking, heartbreaking fires, which follow record-breaking heat waves. We are experiencing the catastrophic impacts of unmitigated climate change in real time. Millions of Americans have been experiencing traumatic climate events from the derecho storm in Iowa to a record-breaking hurricane season affecting states like Louisiana and Texas.
We have to act now. We have to rebuild our country and revolutionize our infrastructure. ”
Examine American issues, and every time you find racial injustice and inequity, examine that injustice and you find racism every time. This is true for all the challenges currently facing our country: the pandemic and the unstable economy. And it’s deeply true for the biggest challenge facing us: climate change. We must recognize our climate crisis is a racial justice issue if we are to have any chance of solving it. We must exit our compounding crises better than how we came into them, and to do that we must transform our country and build a clean energy economy. Doing this will create opportunity and prosperity for every American, but we must make sure that we do it with justice and equity at the core. That is how we must meet this moment and tackle this crisis.
Millions of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have been dealing with climate realities for much longer, with far less Twitter attention. Climate is inseparable from racial justice because America has consistently and deliberately concentrated our toxins and pollution in communities of color. It’s not random that the people who live in Denmark, South Carolina, and Flint, Michigan—places where you can’t drink the tap water—are people of color. But anyone still denying the climate disasters and environmental injustices, anyone still unaffected by climate, lives in a bubble of privilege—and that bubble is popping. We have reached a critical moment when the climate crisis is threatening the health and safety of every American.
We have to act now. We have to rebuild our country and revolutionize our infrastructure. From housing and commercial development to transportation, from our air to our water, we have an opportunity to transform communities. We can clear the smog from our skies with plug-in vehicles. We can make sure parents don’t have to worry about their kids drinking the water if we replace our pipes. Not only can we bring justice, equity, and basic rights to communities suffering from injustice and our climate crisis—we can bring opportunity. We can make sure that the people whose homes are being installed with solar panels are the same people given the training and then the jobs to install those panels. We can make sure that communities of color having borne the greatest burden from climate are positioned to access all the opportunities that a clean energy economy will bring.
The single biggest action we can take to make sure these things happen is to elect Joe Biden. We must elect Joe Biden and elect a Democratic Senate to ensure he can enact his aggressive and progressive climate plan. We need climate champions up and down the ballot to win because the future of our planet is on the ballot. We need a climate election, and to do that we need to make sure people are able to vote as easily and as early as possible.
This Climate Week, I call on everyone to examine our climate crisis and acknowledge the reality of the racism and injustice and inaction that have characterized it for decades. I call on us all to extend our deepest sympathy for those who have lost homes in climate fires and torrential storms. We must transform that sympathy into empathy, because we are all suffering on this burning planet and we share the risks of this climate reality, even not equally. And then we must transform that empathy into action, because if we don’t act now, if we don’t act boldly, then the danger, the injustice—all of it—will intensify until there is no safe haven. We can only act, and act now.
Tom Steyer is a former Democratic presidential candidate and now serves as cochair for California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery. He also cochairs Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s Climate Engagement Advisory Council to help mobilize climate voters in November.