Advancing Community Health while Addressing the Climate Crisis
By Dan Chu, executive director
I was fortunate to be a speaker at the recent Aspen Ideas: Health conference in Aspen Colorado this past June. This week-long conference attracted thousands of health care professionals. The title of the panel was: Incorporating Equity into Climate Change
Strategies. I joined the Chief Heat Officer of Los Angeles, Marta Segura, and Justin Worland, senior correspondent at Time Magazine, in a conversation about approaches to advancing climate solutions in ways that also reduce environmental injustice in underinvested communities that are suffering the brunt of climate change. Heatwaves, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and wildfires are becoming more intense every year, and in the last five years resulted in over $600 billion in losses, according to a NOAA website .
Underinvested and underserved communities are least resilient and hit the hardest by these extreme weather events. Creating healthy communities where everyone has equal access to clean air and water, nature outdoors, and quality jobs requires a strategic blend of investments, public policies, and community engagement. Our core belief is that the fight for climate equity means striving for collective justice. Justice is about having real community self-determination. For example, the Sierra Club Foundation is investing in clean energy projects in partnership with Tribes. Turning to Indigenous communities and their leadership can provide new approaches to breaking out of the extractive colonizing legacy of energy development.
Marta Segura is working with Los Angeles city leaders on a cohesive and funded resilience plan to address community public health challenges related to climate change. Segura asserted that much more attention should be directed toward “sacrifice zones,” areas with the greatest environmental hazards that cause chronic illnesses and depress community development that are too often treated as “disposable.” She observed, “If we invest first and foremost in those communities, we actually resolve the climate problem for everyone in the entire region because that’s where the greatest problems are.”
The next year is critical to ensure billions of investment and grant dollars flow to underinvested communities for climate solutions, public health, and environmental justice. Federal programs are being established to implement provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act and Jobs and Infrastructure Act. The challenge, and the opportunity, is to make sure that all of that money, as it flows to states and localities, actually goes toward real solutions that benefit public and environmental health, and builds collective long-term power for underinvested communities, so that they can chart their own future that creates healthy, economically vibrant, and green communities