Adding another crisis scenario to the mix of events right now in our country seems unthinkable. More than 159,000 American lives have been lost to COVID-19. Decades after the Civil Rights Act, somehow, there are still people who don’t recognize the sanctity of Black lives.
While there are good people of all races working together to cure the coronavirus and root out systemic racism, data and science and facts tell the unfortunate and unfair story of how people of color continue to bear a disproportionate share of so many of today’s burdens — including the impacts of severe weather and hurricanes.
Severe weather impacts us all, so where’s the disproportionality? Sure, storms come ashore and cut power, down trees and flood streets all over Virginia, but folks in rural and low-income areas are typically affected most. It’s easy to connect the dots: the land in low-lying, flood-prone areas costs less and the overall cost of living in those communities is lower, too. Factors such as this make these corners of our state an appealing place to be if you’re living paycheck to paycheck.
But the higher price comes later, when a hurricane hits, flooding homes and roads, impeding access to evacuation routes and emergency services. When this happens, sometimes a person’s place in society costs them their lives.
These communities are often the least equipped to ride out storms or to rebuild and repair after storms. Expensive generators are not in the family budget. They likely have lower coverage on their insurance policies. There’s not a rainy-day-fund or a healthy savings account they can quickly tap to replace flood-ravaged carpeting or furniture. Perhaps the combination of moisture and lack of air conditioning creates a mold problem, as is often the case after a flood.
We owe it to these communities to solve these challenges, ensuring their safety and health.
This means massive funding for flooding adaptation measures and making sure that low-income Virginians aren’t burdened by the cost of flood insurance; something that my office attempted to tackle last General Assembly Session through legislation. But to substantially fix this problem, we have to address more than just the symptoms. We have to address the root cause of a much larger, global problem: climate change.
Low-income communities are often stuck with coal plants as neighbors, breathing in toxic ash and other byproducts. Undesirable neighborhoods often get pegged by the utilities as perfect routes for dangerous gas pipelines, too. The transition to clean energy, propelled by the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, should help. Solar and wind are pollution-free energy sources that don’t emit unhealthy toxins into our air and water, equalizing that part of the energy equation for all Virginians. Solar and wind farms, employing technologies that generate electricity from free sources, are more affordable, too, and will help bring costs down for all ratepayers.
Furthermore, the clean energy industry has a track record of consistent job creation. In fact, according to a new report, Virginia is poised to welcome 29,000 new jobs as a result of solar projects on the books.
But we need more, and we need to take action now. We can start by ensuring low-income communities are prioritized in flood funding from our participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and taking a stand against unneeded and high-risk fossil fuel projects that disproportionately affect majority-minority communities.
Our people are in crisis. Communities of color across the country are exposed to and dying of COVID-19 at higher rates than affluent white communities. Police brutality against our Black and Brown friends and neighbors remains a serious problem. Adding insult to injury, low-lying, low-income areas of our state are like sitting ducks as the Earth heats up and the Atlantic Ocean churns out storm after storm.
It’s time to put our words into action.
Del. Alex Askew represents the 85th House District in Virginia Beach.