Excerpts: As the state faces a pandemic-driven budget crisis, the programs that cap-and-trade revenue funds—including climate and environmental justice programs, investing in jobs and climate mitigation in black and brown communities—could now be at risk.
There were bigger stories over the weekend, of course: namely, a nationwide uprising against police violence sparked by the killing of another unarmed black man in Minneapolis, George Floyd. As more and more videos emerge of violent, chaotic police responses to largely peaceful demonstrators, more people are joining calls from black organizers for governments to defund police departments, reallocating budgets toward the types of things that promote genuine physical, economic, and other forms of security in communities of color. Climate experts and campaigners—especially those dismayed by California’s lackluster carbon auction results—would do well to listen.
Allowances in California’s carbon-pricing system, which are a centerpiece of the state’s cap-and-trade law, correspond to the “cap” on the amount of pollution the state’s largest emitters can put into the air overall…The revenue generated from these credits’ sale is a key resource for the state’s climate and environmental justice priorities. The revenue flows to a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund distributed to various state agencies, whose investment priorities are set by the state legislature. Thanks to a successful push from California’s climate and environmental justice groups, 35 percent of auction revenue is now dedicated toward broadly defined investments in “disadvantaged communities.”
Similar demands have taken root around the country. Organizers with the Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block in Minneapolis have called on the city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, to cut $45 million from the police budget and expand “community-led health and safety strategies.” As The New Republic’s Melissa Gira Grant explained over the weekend, the coalition Durham Beyond Policing, last year, won its campaign for the North Carolina city to invest in “life-affirming services, not an unjustified expansion of the police force.” And the Movement for Black Lives has long pushed an “Invest-Divest” policy platform demanding “investments in Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations.”
Following the lead of longtime climate and environmental justice organizers, advocates of a Green New Deal have acknowledged its need for targeted investment in the black and brown communities subject to environmental racism and chronic disinvestment. Toward that end, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era stimulus, which itself helped exacerbate some of those problems, needn’t be the only historical reference point for figuring out how to build a better world. Spearheaded by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the Freedom Budget, launched in 1966, outlined an ambitious program to eliminate poverty in the United States within 10 years through full employment, higher wages, health care, and a host of other measures intended to extend the gains of the civil rights movement toward broader economic justice. “It will mean more money in your pocket,” the plan’s authors wrote. “It will mean better schools for your children. It will mean better homes for you and your neighbors. It will mean clean air to breathe and comfortable cities to live in. It will mean adequate medical care when you are sick.”
An ever-growing number of green groups have released statements expressing solidarity with protesters and denouncing police brutality, white supremacy, and the increasingly warlike rhetoric from the White House. With Democratic and Republican chief executives both likely to lurch toward austerity in the months and years to come, there’s plenty of common cause to be found in calls to defund the police and invest in a more generous, democratic, and green public sphere, well beyond the scope of what any carbon-pricing measure can accomplish. For green activists, that will mean seeing decarbonization less as a narrow battle for line items that incentivize renewables than as a contest to shape who and what society values in a climate-changed twenty-first century; many, including in the Sunrise Movement, are already making these connections. If black lives really do matter to climate advocates, defunding the police should, too.