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Claim: Climate action can’t be separated from social justice – ‘The climate crisis is a driver of injustice, widening the gap between the haves & the have-nots’

Elites who divorce climate policy from social justice are almost as out of touch as those who deny climate science altogether

In February, the New York Times editorial board wondered whether addressing the climate crisis was “merely a cover for a wish-list of progressive policies and a not-so-subtle effort to move the Democratic Party to the left?” A day later, the Washington Post editorial board opined that serious policymakers should not “muddle” decarbonization with social programs that “divert money and attention from the primary mission”. And in a widely circulated 11,000-word Open Letter to Green New Dealers, Jerry Taylor, the president of the Niskanen Center, a pro-market environmental group, was incredulous. “The Green New Deal resolution quite literally gives a nod to every single last policy demand forwarded by the Democratic Socialists of America,” he wrote. “The climate is too important to be held hostage to political commitments.” The general gist of all this: take your social justice agenda elsewhere, activists. It has no place in serious climate policy.

But here’s the thing: social justice concerns are always intertwined with public policy – and absolutely central to climate policy.

At the same time, the climate crisis is a driver of injustice, widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Communities of color number among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because they live in areas at higher risk of wildfires and flooding – often without basic economic protections like insurance.

For all the naysayers’ hand-wringing, it appears that social justice has found a home in climate policy – at least with some. Last week, Elizabeth Warren unveiled a $2tn green manufacturing platform that included explicit commitments to unions and communities of color. The same day, Joe Biden, previously noted for his Green New Deal skepticism, did an about-face, putting out a platform that cited the Green New Deal resolution and included an entire section dedicated to environmental justice. The next day, Jay Inslee – the governor of Washington, who is running a climate-focused campaign for president – published a 50-page foreign policy package that included an extensive examination of the United States’ responsibility to the Global South and to climate refugees. This came on the heels of his Evergreen Economy Plan, which focused on the role of justice in a clean energy economy.