For entrepreneurs, extreme weather, sea level rise, and local pollution choke more than the health of our families; they choke our businesses, and they choke economic opportunity for people of color.
As the leader of an organization that represents business interests, especially those of small and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs in local communities, I’ve voiced my support of sensible pollution safeguards and climate action. The reason is simple: pollution is bad for business, and politicians may hide behind “jobs” as the one and only reason to peel back life-saving regulations, but the truth on the ground is much different.
Just pose this question to the small business owners in New Orleans and the region who suffered to bring their businesses back for years (many failed to) thanks to Hurricane Katrina. Climate change often translates to more extreme weather for all citizens.
We cannot hide from the harsh reality that communities of color suffer disproportionately. It’s our communities that already face higher rates of asthma and who live in already polluted places. Seven in 10 black Americans live, today, in a place that does not meet basic air quality standards. Black Americans already visit the hospital more than three times on average than their white peers. And yes, it’s our community, black-owned businesses in urban areas that struggle the most to build and grow businesses in polluted, unlivable conditions.
The Trump administration’s attempt to roll back the essential public health and climate protections that ensure that we can live, breathe, and work free from harm is only going to make things worse. The carbon pollution that fuels climate change comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like smog and particulate matter, pollutants that are especially harmful.
First, of course, it’s hard to start a business or find a job when you or your family are sick. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency saves lives, especially for those suffering the most from pollution—people of color and poor families. Just the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments alone, which targets a few specific pollutants, have paid out 30 to 1 in health benefits to costs.
And second, the good news is, in the solution to climate change lies opportunity—not just for healthier lives, but for good paying jobs. The burgeoning clean energy industry and low carbon economy across America offers a new opportunity for blue-collar and technical workers—and small, black-owned businesses, too.
When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under President Obama’s leadership, put forth better fuel economy standards for cars, not only was it a people-focused move to save middle-class families money at the pump, it also helped reignite a struggling auto industry and bring advanced manufacturing and the auto-industry supply chain back to life. Many of those jobs would not be here today, if not thanks to sensible pollution regulations.
The U.S. Department of Energy recently found that ~2.2 million Americans are currently employed in the design, installation, and manufacture of energy-efficiency products and services. Those jobs are all here in the United States, they’re all at the local level, and many are in urban areas.
That number doubles the 1.1 million Americans who are employed in fossil fuel production and fossil fuel electric power generation.
I’ve built my own businesses and worked with so many other successful entrepreneurs. I’ve seen the struggles of business owners personally. They come in many forms. But the most basic struggle is our health and well-being, as a community.
There are two sure things in the coming years: first, climate change and pollution will continue to harm us and our ability to start and grow businesses, especially for black families. And second, the Trump administration will continue to be irresponsible and ignore the truth that we see and feel on the ground in places where their special interest agenda does not apply.
I’m hopeful, because, at the local level, many communities put partisanship aside to take practical action to protect businesses and people. Sea level rise threatens coastal economies, and so Republicans and Democrats in cities like Miami, have banded together to construct policies to adapt to harmful climate impacts.
If enough of us at the local level commit to crafting viable, practical solutions, we can take back the false narrative now in Washington that says pollution is good-for-business, and help ensure a better climate especially for those who suffer the most—for business and for people.
This article was written by Ron Busby, the president/CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers.