By Tom Frantz and Hannah Brandt
On March 9, 2016, Maria Hinojosa, host of the cutting edge NPR show Latino USA, came from New York to Sacramento to moderate a panel on Inequality and Climate Change before a live audience.
The meeting was sponsored by the California Endowment and coordinated by the Futuro Media Group. It was held at the non-profit Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative center which is housed in an abandoned elementary school in south-central Sacramento. The event was attended by approximately 100 citizens, plus press and government agency representatives from the Air Resources Board and Cal Trans among others.
Ms. Hinojosa led an informative discussion with four panelists followed by a lively question and answer session with the audience. The panelists were Lupe Martinez, Assistant Director of the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment; Adriana Quintero, Director of Voces Verdes of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Amy Vanderwarker, Co-Director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance; and Tom Frantz, an almond farmer from Kern County and long-time environmental activist.
The panelists first described why they were involved in the area of climate change and inequality, which can also be defined as environmental justice. Low income, communities of color, who are most negatively impacted by toxic air pollution, degraded water quality, substandard housing, and poor educational and job opportunities, will continue to suffer most from the effects of climate change.
“Sacramento is one of the top ten metropolitan areas in the United States that is the most ozone-polluted. In fact, five out of those ten metropolitan cities are found in California. Worst of all, Latinos have a 1/3 chance of living in pollution zones compared to 1/14 of whites,” said Hinojosa.
The San Joaquin Valley has some of the worst air in the country. Fresno had the fourth highest air pollution in 2015. Bakersfield had the third worst air. Visalia snagged the number two spot. According to the American Lung Association, Fresno has the greatest percentage of particulates (smoke, dirt, dust, and soot) in the air, making us in the Central Valley more prone to heart attack, lung cancer, and asthma.
The panel and audience expressed concern over the lack of resources to help these communities change from a wasteful, dirty, fossil fuel-based economy to one based on clean renewable energy. Exasperation was high that polluting industries, which harm nearby residents with their air pollution, go about business as usual while buying their way out of real greenhouse gas reductions with offsets located in other states and countries.
Clear examples of the damage due to climate change and the suffering it is causing in San Joaquin Valley communities include water problems from the drought, the strain on farm workers from an increase in temperatures, higher energy bills, and lack of money allocated to begin offsetting these problems. In addition, health issues from a hotter climate will hit already stressed low-income communities the hardest.
The lack of sufficient programs so that low-income residents have access to solar panels for their roofs or neighborhoods and electric vehicles for transportation compound the problem. Frustration was expressed that politicians are making critical decisions without input from the most affected people, primarily people of color, very often Latinos. Those in power reach these conclusions, however, with plenty of money from the oil industry.
The audience asked several questions regarding what should be done about these problems and what ordinary citizens can do to help. The panelists suggested many small but significant actions individuals should undertake. Advice included planting organic community gardens to lesson the transportation and energy demands of our food system and to promote better health from more nutritious diets. Changing our personal food choices can have a vital impact, such as cutting back beef and dairy consumption to lessen our carbon footprint.
Demands to our politicians for greater action to slow down and reverse climate change were emphasized as well during the meeting. Greater involvement in politics is essential, from local to state levels. Everyone agreed that solving this issue would entail massive changes from the way we currently live our everyday lives and to the economy as a whole.
It was recognized that if everyone, rich and poor alike, is not part of the solution, then climate change will not be solved, and the entire human race could face catastrophe. A redistribution of wealth, from those who have profited the most from exploiting the current irresponsible economy based on cheap fossil fuel, to those who need resources the most to make the conversion to renewable energy, is absolutely essential.
The event was web cast live and a video of the discussion is available on-line here: http://latinousa.org/2016/03/03/maria-hinojosa-in-sacramento-inequality-and-climate-change/
Longtime clean air advocate Tom Frantz is a retired math teacher and Kern County almond farmer. A founding member of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, he serves on the CVAQ steering committee and as president of the Association of Irritated Residents. CVAQ is a partnership of more than 70 community, medical, public health, environmental and environmental justice organizations representing thousands of residents in the San Joaquin Valley unified in their commitment to improve the health of Californians. For more information, visit www. calcleanair.org. Hannah Brandt is the editor of Community Alliance newspaper. Contact her at editor@ fresnoalliance.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @ HannahBP2.