Too often when we hear about climate change, it feels like an enormous crisis that is almost too big to tackle. As the nation confronts a continued national reckoning with systemic racism, a divided democracy and a pandemic that is still raging, it can be easy to push climate change aside. But the truth is climate change is one of the biggest threats to our nation and our state, and the effects of our slowly warming planet are inextricably intertwined with many other structural challenges.
Climate change increases the likelihood that there will be future pandemics and climate-induced mass migrations and jeopardizes how we allocate our resources. In Maryland, it affects our agricultural economy, the ability of our biodiversity to thrive and the health of the Chesapeake and coastal bays.
Maryland already faces severe air quality issues, and climate change further compromises the health of our residents. We simply cannot ignore the environmental injustices that affect communities of color and those from low-income socioeconomic backgrounds. According to a 2015 report from the Environmental Law Clinic of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, Black Marylanders and those from challenging socioeconomic backgrounds bear a disproportionate burden of cancer risk from toxins in the air and are more likely to live in proximity to polluting facilities such as incinerators. The American Lung Association 2020 State of the Air report gives Maryland abysmal grades for smog or ozone pollution. Additionally, children in Baltimore City suffer from asthma at more than twice the national rate; that’s 20 percent of the city’s young people sitting at the intersection of redlining, poverty, lack of quality health care and environmental racism. Across Baltimore, the hottest areas are parallel with poverty. But that pattern is not unusual. In dozens of major U.S. cities, neighborhoods with more residents from low-income backgrounds are hotter than their wealthier counterparts.
With the current economic crisis, investing in greening our economy in Maryland can position us for future prosperity and jobs that can help close the wealth and opportunity gaps in our state. And we can start by creating more pathways for students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, establishing centers of excellence in sustainability at our historically Black colleges and universities and enacting bold policy change to open pathways to the development of renewable energy.
We have a long way to go to modernize our energy infrastructure. We have to commit to making offshore wind a reality and part of our state’s long-term sustainable future. State law still qualifies waste-to-energy as a renewable resource, despite it being more toxic to nearby communities than coal plants. And today, Maryland has no clear plan for addressing emissions from the building sector, which account for nearly 40 percent of climate pollution in the United States.
This session — thanks to the leadership of advocates and members of the General Assembly who have been in this fight for years — Maryland has a chance to become a national leader in making progress on climate change with the introduction of the Climate Solutions Now Act, the Climate Crisis and Education Act, the Transit Safety and Investment Act, the Clean Water Commerce Act and the Public Service Commission Consideration of Climate and Labor legislation — all good first steps that include everything from planting 500,000 trees in underserved communities to expanding renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Poll after poll shows that Marylanders want to see this kind of action. People of color, including Black and Latino communities nationally, are especially concerned about climate change that impacts our lives, families and neighborhoods.
Maryland must be far bolder, far more strategic and far more aggressive in reducing and eventually eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, drawing down excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, investing in green technology and sustainable infrastructure and ensuring that the transformation of our economy is both equitable and just.
We can do more — in the name of environmental justice, for the health of our communities and for future generations of Marylanders.