As most Americans enjoy a Labor Day weekend of barbecues, beaches, and the last days of summer, millions in Texas and Louisiana are dealing with a stunning human tragedy from a rain event without precedent.
Harvey’s devastation has been tragic, unprecedented, shocking, and yet, to be expected. For decades now, scientists have been warning that climate change would lead to just this kind of devastation.
So why haven’t we, as a society, done more to prevent it?
Unfortunately, one reason is that climate change and severe weather threaten poor and communities of color the most, and yet these most vulnerable are unable to fully protect themselves as long as they are marginalized by systemic poverty and racism. People who are struggling to put food on the table and afford health care, who are terrorized by violence, and who are targeted by hate have less time, resources, and power to stand up against climate change and the dumps, smokestacks, floodplain development, toxic sites and other environmental risks that tend to be clustered in minority and disadvantaged communities.
Earning a living wage and the right for workers to organize are critical to breaking these cycles of poverty, and empowering each and every one of us to participate fully in our economy and society. That’s why the Sierra Club supports policies that raise wages for our most vulnerable, like the $15 minimum wage that the Illinois General Assembly passed this year, only to be vetoed by Governor Rauner. Sierra Club opposes “right to work” or other attacks on the rights of workers to form unions, because we need a skilled workforce to build safe and clean water, transportation, and energy infrastructure. Unions also protect workers who call out unsafe conditions or violations of the law in the workplace, which protects them and the communities around them.
The threats to working people from climate change are mirrored by the economic opportunities offered by its solutions. We need to prioritize communities of color for good jobs in clean energy, as we are doing with the Illinois Solar For All program under the Future Energy Jobs Act. We are counting on unions to provide the training for these jobs, and to help ensure this work pays a living wage in safe conditions.
To solve climate change and seize the benefits of the clean energy economy, we need to overcome the extremely powerful few who benefit from the status quo. We cannot do that until each and every one of us who want a better future for our communities and our children are empowered to join our movement, and for many a living wage in a good job are critical first steps.
That’s why the Sierra Club is marching with our labor and community allies on Labor Day in the Fight for $15 and union rights, and we invite you to join us. Our thoughts will be with the millions suffering in the wake of Harvey and from injustice, and on building a bigger movement to win a better future.