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Providence’s approach to centering equity in its climate justice strategy
The New Normal
In the summer of 2018 a thick, humid heat blanketed Providence as air quality warnings clogged social media feeds. Children and the elderly were advised to stay indoors or at cooling centers while July 4th celebrations were muted under a heavy haze. As the impacts of climate change – from dangerously hot summers to steadily creeping sea level rise and an increase in unpredictable weather events – are being felt in Providence, climate pollution continues to belch from the cars lined up on I-95, from the dirty energy used to heat and cool our buildings, and from industries that still rely on fossil fuels for power.
The impacts of climate pollution are not experienced equally; communities of color and low income communities across the globe disproportionately bear the burden of what has been called the biggest threat to human health of the 21st century. These communities are at the frontline of climate change and already suffer from longstanding disparities and environmental injustices and, as the NAACP point out, race – not class – is the most significant correlating factor for the placement of toxic facilities in the United States. To protect Providence from the environmental, health, and economic impacts of climate crisis, the City is developing a climate plan that not only develops a realistic pathway towards a truly equitable, low-carbon, and climate resilient future, but that can also be used as a tool of social and racial justice.
Why we need equity in Providence’s climate plan
Providence already ranks:
- 5th highest in the nation for income inequality (Brookings)
- 5th highest in the nation for low-income energy burden (ACEEE)
- Most polluted county for air quality in the Boston-Worcester-Providence metro area
- Received an F for high ozone days (American Lung Association)
Providence’s low-income neighborhoods have the highest asthma rates in the state which will only be exacerbated by climate pollution, they have the lowest tree canopy coverage meaning less shade and more heat in summer, and are dealing with the highest lead poisoning rates in Rhode Island.
These communities are on the frontlines of climate change yet contribute the least to the problem; not only should climate action serve to protect frontline communities, it must address the root causes of the climate crisis: structural inequalities, racism, and oppression that enabled the unsustainable extraction of resources and labor which underpinned the industrial age.
From engagement to collaborative governance
To ensure Providence’s climate justice plan is equitable and informed by the lived experiences of frontline communities, the Office of Sustainability went beyond a typical community engagement strategy. Through a collaboration with the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee of Providence and One Square World, those who are most impacted by the climate crisis were centered in the process and their issues and concerns prioritized. This began last summer with the Energy Democracy Retreat and Community Leaders program. From this program, Community Leaders interviewed over 40 Providence frontline community members. Data gathered from these interviews shed light on the main priorities and concerns across these communities, and will be used to inform the policy and program considerations for the City’s climate plan.
By better understanding the priorities and concerns of frontline community members, the City will explore policy and program options that focus on:
- Reduction of emissions of main carbon emitters and factories focusing on communities of color
- Self-determination and deep democracy
- Remove fossil fuel and other toxic storage and transportation in Providence environmental justice communities most impacted by pollution and other toxins, beginning with the “Port of Providence”
- Reduce reliance on fossil fuels including natural gas
- Reduce impact of highway pollution near communities of color
- Increase green spaces in communities of color
- Improve roads for multi-modal transit
- Access to adequate, efficient, and affordable insulation, heating and cooling and electricity.
- Prioritize schools, recreation centers and other community spaces
- Reduce air pollution and allergens
- Improve public transportation
- Create jobs and training that prepare workers to succeed in a pro-climate economy and support small business
- Accountability on City and large buildings/companies to reduce energy use and improve their effect on frontline communities.
Going beyond climate action
Through a continued dedication to equity and an equitable process, the City of Providence believes we can leverage our climate plan to go far beyond emissions reduction targets to address root causes of environmental burdens and make a more resilient, liveable city for all. We need more than climate action – we need climate justice.
Be a part of shaping Providence’s climate justice plan!
We want to hear from you.
CLICK HERE to learn more about Providence’s Climate Justice plan.
Let us know your thoughts and provide feedback by contacting us at SustainPVD@providenceri.com or engaging with us on social media.
Request a presentation of our draft plan by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org