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Environmental Justice Q & A with Courage California’s Angela Chavez

California Refinery

Daily Kos | Alan Kandel | Oct. 25, 2023

Alan Kandel: Angela, Courage California is the organization you represent. What is Courage California’s purpose and what is your role?

Angela Chavez: Courage California is a statewide multi-issue advocacy organization. We believe in a progressive, equitable, and representative California, powered by our people. By providing accessible digital tools, such as our California Voter Guide and Annual Courage Score, we work to unite and equip Californians to hold leaders accountable and take courageous action for change.  

I’m the Communications Director at Courage California, overseeing internal and external communications for our advocacy and educational efforts. I’m in charge of developing and disseminating our legislative, electoral, and issue-based messaging and working with partners around the state to develop effective local and statewide narratives on issues our members care about.

Last year we surveyed our membership, asking which issues are most important to them, and two-thirds said climate change and environmental justice.  

AK: Climate change impacts everyone. There is no one who is in some way not affected by the impacts of a changing climate. Turning attention to environmental justice with regard to those living in disadvantaged communities, what makes people living in such communities especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, more so than what is typically the case with those not residing in these neighborhoods? Can you please speak to that?

AC: Communities on the frontlines of climate change – low-income communities and communities of color – are severely impacted because they are more likely to live in areas with oil wells, warehouses, and other sources of pollution; water, air, and land.

This year our sister organization, Courage California Institute (CCI), conducted statewide polling to learn about the diverse experiences and views Californians have with climate change and found that these frontline communities have a higher belief in climate change, have noticed the effects become more severe, and see the effects more broadly, especially in pollution and health.

Due to varying factors, Californians in these communities are more likely to hold jobs where they’d be exposed to the elements. For example, Latinx residents make up 39.4% of the California population, but make up 92% of farm workers here, according to the California Latino Legislative Caucus. They are more likely to experience heat stroke and other heat illnesses on the job, and with climate change, every summer gets hotter.

Lastly, frontline communities are rarely at the table when the decisions are made that impact them most, including when elected leaders approve harmful projects despite community objections and demands. Such communities don’t have the scale of resources that wealthier communities and corporations have, which impedes their ability to lobby at city halls, Sacramento, or D.C. to prevent harmful developments in their neighborhoods, secure funding to clean up toxic waste, or ensure that they can afford and access programs or products that can help them safeguard their homes or workplaces.

AK: Even within EJ communities there is considerable disparity. What does that disparity consist of or look like, what demographic is the most impacted and what will it take to help ease those limiting conditions that hinder improvement?

AC: Polling shows a considerable demographic disparity among those who feel impacted by climate change and how they feel impacted. More people of color have noticed the effects of climate change become more severe – 88% of Asians, 80% of Black respondents, 79% of Latinx – compared to just 66% of Whites. Black voters see the greatest effects in health (32%) and Latinxs in pollution (28%), as do residents of the Inland region, where we’ve seen rapid expansion of warehouses. Legislators need to prioritize the communities affected the most.