Surprise! Climate change is real

Why Minnesota communities of color should take action


MSR Editorial








By Karen Monahan and Nikki Silverstri

Guest Commentators


This week, the White House released the National Climate Assessment (NCA) — a federal analysis that finds what we know to be true. Climate change is real. It is damaging neighborhoods across the country.

Minnesota is feeling the impact. During the heat wave of July 2011, the Twin Cities experienced an all-time high dew point of 82°F that when combined with an air temperature of 95°F created a heat index of nearly 119°F! The state experienced four ”1000 year flood events” since 2004. Changing climate conditions also increased the number of Lyme disease cases in the area.

But what may surprise many people is that those with the fewest resources to escape, survive and recover are those hit first and worst by climate change — communities of color and low-income Americans.

Carbon pollution is the single largest driver of climate change and communities of color bear the brunt of its health effects. For instance, Latinos and African Americans disproportionately live near high-polluting power plants, with 68 percent of African Americans living within 30 miles of a coal plant — one of the biggest sources of carbon pollution in America.

That might help explain why African American kids have a much higher rate of asthma: one in six, compared with one in 10 nationwide. They’re also more vulnerable to heat-related deaths, which are only expected to increase in the Midwest.

We know that climate change isn’t just a health issue; it’s a financial one, too. Pollution from electricity generation costs Minnesotans $2.1 billion dollars in health and environmental impacts. As asthma causes students to miss school (it’s currently the number reason they do), our parents are left taking off work and losing wages to take care of our children. During a time when so many of us are living from paycheck to paycheck, we simply can’t afford to delay action.

As daunting as climate change is, it’s not unsolvable. We have protections in place when it comes to arsenic, lead, soot and other chemical pollution from power plants, but there are no existing federal limits on carbon pollution. We can change that by supporting the EPA in its efforts to cut emissions from future and existing power plants, which will ensure that power plants can no longer dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air.

These air pollution standards benefit our economy. Since 1970, every dollar in investment in compliance with the Clean Air Act standards has produced four-to-eight dollars in economic benefits. By combating carbon pollution, we are also incentivizing clean energy jobs — every dollar invested in clean energy creates three times as many jobs as a dollar invested in fossil fuels. These are good, family-supporting jobs in industries like solar and wind that can help our disadvantaged communities.

At the same time, these communities can prepare for the extreme weather and climate disasters that lie ahead through resilience strategies — ones that strengthen our ability to thrive economically and environmentally. It’s not enough to plan to bounce back after the next disaster, plans that incorporate economic security, strong infrastructure, and social connections will help communities leap forward.

It’s time to get real about tackling climate change. The NCA report stresses this fact and shows that it’s only going to get worse. Communities of color have been paying for our fossil fuel economy with their health, and it’s time to put safeguards in place like carbon pollution standards that will protect their wellbeing. We have been disproportionally burdened by the pollution-based economy. Let us all share in the prosperity and health of a green economy.


Karen Monahan is an Environmental Justice Sierra Club organizer and Nikki Silverstri is executive director for Green for All.