Environmental harms are inequitably distributed in our society. The largest emitters tend to be located near neighborhoods with higher proportions of disadvantaged residents. While the impacts of climate change will harm all Americans, disadvantaged communities may suffer worse harms and hazards than the rest of Americans while being less able to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from them.

Emissions of carbon dioxide are the leading cause of global warming and carbon’s impacts are truly global. Carbon itself does not have an impact on the community nearby. But carbon is co-emitted with pollutants such as particulate matter and smog precursors that have harmful local impacts. The majority of air pollution deaths are caused by smog and particulate matter. For example, smog traps heat and smoggy areas can experience deadly localized heat islands during extreme heat events. 

Californians already suffer a relatively high disease burden with approximately 18,000 premature deaths a year and thousands of other illnesses caused by pollution.

Climate policies can help us reduce air pollution from the sources that cause both climate change and localized health impacts. We’ve also got to invest in the communities that will be hit the hardest and provide job training opportunities. Even though California’s efforts alone cannot stop global warming, our work here is an opportunity to maximize the benefits to our state.

Photo credit: Green For All

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