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Will Fighting Global Warming Kill Jobs or Save Lives?

TheLoop21.com, News Analysis, Alyssa Giachino Posted: Dec 16, 2009

As President Obama arrives at the Copenhagen Climate Summit this week, he will once again have to straddle international and domestic concerns, most likely to the satisfaction of none.

His credibility on the global stage is bolstered by a ruling last week by the Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, are dangerous to human health.

Back home, industry groups in energy and manufacturing have bashed the ruling as a job killer in the midst of a vulnerable economy.

Communities of color have interests in both sides of the debate. The communities hit hardest by the recession in many cases are the same ones that suffer the worst effects from greenhouse gases.

Take a look at the environmental justice movements in the neighborhoods of South Bronx or Long Beach, CA where industrial and vehicle emissions are linked to high rates of respiratory illness.

John Walke, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says communities fighting for environmental justice have cause to rejoice. When EPA starts to regulate global warming pollution from industrial polluters you will see simultaneous reductions in pollution that causes asthma and other respiratory diseases, he said.

But its good on the jobs front too. This administration has been very eloquent, I believe, in discussing possibilities for green jobs ... its been a real centerpiece of their agenda on energy and climate, Walke said. You have to take that into account when you look at any economic disruptions that industry is always touting.

The news last week of a $1.4 billion deal for GE to build wind turbines is an example of growth in the green economy.

Besides, without diminishing the need to take action now to create jobs, its short-sighted to seek economic growth at the expense of the environment. The EPA ruling finally catches up to the science, which says greenhouse gases endanger public health for current and future generations.

Because of global warming, the EPA predicts more powerful storms along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. Note the flooding in Atlanta this year, and the perennial hurricanes that batter those low-lying areas of the Mississippi Delta and Florida. Such events are most devastating for the people who cant afford to leave, or whose housing is inadequate to withstand the beating.

Greenhouse-induced extreme weather doesnt just involve water, its about temperatures too. As an example of disparate impact, look at the 1995 Chicago heat wave that left hundreds dead. The victims were largely low-income, the elderly, and people of color who didn't have air conditioning or were living alone.

As the impacts of global warming ramp up, the distinction between man-made and natural disasters, aka Hurricane Katrina, will be both less clear and less relevant. Human activity is playing a role in all of this, through the direct impact of industrial pollution or faulty levees and the slightly less direct impact of global warming from the greenhouse gases we spew.

We need the Obama administration to strongly advocate for the United States to take concrete steps to cut greenhouse gases and simultaneously to stimulate economic growth.

The two are interdependent, not mutually exclusive.

Alyssa Giachino is an economics writer for TheLoop21.com. She has worked as a reporter in New York, New Jersey, Mexico City and California covering stories on labor, the environment, immigration and politics.

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