We need justice in fighting climate change

Arturo Rodriguez, center, president of the United Farm Workers, displays one of the more that 1,000 water bottles being given to farmworkers to help deal with the summertime heat.
Arturo Rodriguez, center, president of the United Farm Workers, displays one of the more that 1,000 water bottles being given to farmworkers to help deal with the summertime heat. The Associated Press

Last month, amid a flurry of confusion about California’s climate policy, we passed two bills – Senate Bill 32 and Assembly Bill 197 – out of committee. Together, the bills represent a refreshing partnership that underscores a guiding principle: that as the state works to follow mandates required by science, it also must abide the imperatives of justice and equity.

Those imperatives – to provide economic security and a brighter future – have guided our work to face a changing climate.

Our legislative districts are different in many ways, but they share a common characteristic with each other and every district in California: They are suffering from the effects of climate change.

The 56th Assembly District, which includes Imperial County and the Coachella Valley, is no stranger to heat. But now residents grapple with higher highs, and longer, more frequent heat waves. In June, record-breaking temperatures reached into the 120s.

When the heat comes, it drives up the costs of air conditioning, damages crops and makes back-breaking farm work even more dangerous.

In Senate District 27, home of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage reservoir, residents suffered the largest-ever single emission of methane gas in our country’s history. Thousands of families were forced from their homes, people got sick and property values fell.

In the wake of that disaster, they have learned that Southern California is distressingly reliant on a single resource to power the electric grid. Unless that changes, their communities will remain at risk to noxious leaks that spew a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Climate change is already reshaping lives in California. Communities are hurting, and we’ve unfairly asked our disadvantaged communities to sacrifice the most.

In the Central Valley, we expect farmworkers to balance food production with overdrafted and contaminated groundwater. In industrial areas, we expect workers to refine fuels, then head home to air pollution so bad that outdoor activity is often discouraged.

When we talk about preventing the worst consequences of climate change, we know that the most critical impacts are those that are already making it increasingly difficult for people to work, to breathe, and to enjoy a quality of life they have come to expect in California.

We are fighting a global problem that plays out at the kitchen faucet and in our lungs. That’s why when we traveled together to Paris, as part of California’s delegation to the global climate talks, we brought with us the stories from our neighbors in places such as El Centro, the San Fernando Valley or Stockton.

We have come to understand that the imperative to take carbon out of the atmosphere is inexorably tied to the obligation we have to lessen the impacts on those who live next to a highway or in the shadow of a smokestack.

That’s why our intent with SB 32 and AB 197 is to provide more benefits to communities that have been and will continue to be hit the hardest.

Fran Pavley, an Agoura Hills Democrat, represents the 27th Senate District and can be contacted at Eduardo Garcia, a Coachella Democrat, represents the 56th Assembly District and can be contacted at