By Menaka Mohan
April 23, 2013
Several years ago, I worked as a community advocate in the South Bronx. I partnered with community members, agencies, and local elected officials to push for bike lanes, sidewalks, parks and open space in a community that had suffered from years of disinvestment, poor health and environmental injustices. Neighborhood residents wanted clean air to breathe, parents were calling for safe places for their children to play and be active, and the community was fed up with injuries and deaths stemming from the disproportionate number of commercial trucks that used the neighborood as a thoroughfare.
My work had a decidedly local focus, with an emphasis on community-based solutions--I didn't embark on these efforts in the name of preserving the environment or mitigating the effects of climate change. But because our work focused on creating more opportunities for families to walk, bike, and use transit to get to key destinations, our efforts simultaneously reduced greenhouse gas emissions-the primary driver of global warming.
I now live and work in California. Across the Golden State, many communities are facing the same challenges as the South Bronx community that I worked in--a lack of transit options, few safe places to play, and poor air quality. Yet tough economic times have meant cuts to critical funding streams--including state and federal investments in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. At a time when many communities are grappling with a high prevalence of chronic disease--illness that has been driven in large part by community environments designed to foster poor health--such cuts represent an additional blow to community health and well-being.
That's why California's Cap and Trade Program presents such an opportunity.
California's new Cap and Trade program is anticipated to generate $600 million in revenue during its first year, to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs). But as advocates across the state know, strategies that are good for our planet and strategies that are good for the people who live on it overlap. Projects like reliable public transit, safe places to walk and bike, and dedicated open space work double-time-cutting greenhouse gases and building healthier communities.
Bike lanes and sidewalks provide people with the opportunity to build activity into their daily lives, produce zero harmful pollutants, and encourage ways of living that are more sustainable for our planet. Neighborhoods that provide affordable housing near transit give families transportation options-and transit users not only produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than people who drive, they're more likely than drivers to achieve recommended daily levels of physical activity.
Last week, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) released its Draft Cap and Trade Auctions Proceeds Investment Plan -- laying out a proposal for how the state should invest revenues generated by Cap and Trade. The plan identifies public transportation, biking and walking, transit-oriented development, and urban greening as the top strategies for investment to reduce GHGs, improve public health, and spur economic growth. However, the plan also has room for improvement: the draft does not prioritize providing dedicated funding to maintain existing transit service, which is key to reducing GHGs and meeting the needs of people who depend on transit.
This spring, there are several opportunities to make your voice heard and ensure that the Cap and Trade investment plan promotes health and equity for all California's communities. Join other advocates on April 24th in Sacramento to meet with your local representatives and ask them to support healthy transportation infrastructure. Sign the petition to support healthy investments, such as affordable housing near transit-in all communities.
On April 25th, ARB will host a hearing in Sacramento seeking input on the draft investment plan--providing a critical opportunity for advocates to highlight the importance of local efforts that create healthy communities and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change policy and public health policy are inseparable. California's health advocates must continue to press for Cap and Trade investments that help to build healthy, equitable communities up and down the state. From Ukiah to Fresno to South Los Angeles, let's seize the opportunity so that the potential for Cap and Trade revenues to improve community health becomes a reality.