How to Fix Climate Change and Income Inequality at the Same Time is a Debate Worth Having

Candidates seeking our presidency will be in Ohio tomorrow to debate the problems our nation faces and pitch their solutions to them. While worries about health care still dominate polling when it comes to the concerns of average folks, two other interrelated crises are rising up the charts: income inequality and climate change.

In a recent poll, 68% of respondents said they were very concerned or somewhat concerned about income inequality in the United States. That shouldn’t be surprising as new data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that income inequality — the gap between the wealthiest Americans and the average worker — had again risen in 2018, reaching a five decade high, the highest level recorded since the bureau started tracking the gap. In addition, the Economic Policy Institute found that since 1978 CEO wages grew 339%, and CEO total compensation growth was even starker with a 940% increase, compared to a 12% increase for your typical worker.

CEO pay growth has wildly outpaced the average worker. Source: Economic Policy Institute.

In Ohio, the wealthiest 1% of households took home almost 16% of all earned income in the state. That figure has almost doubled since 1974.

Meanwhile, in Ohio — where Democratic candidates will take the stage — it has warmed about 1 degree (F) on average during the last century. This warming — and the impacts that come with it — has been noticed by the public. A recent poll found over 70% of Ohioans think climate change is already affecting the United States. The National Climate Assessment has found that the Midwest region will see an increase in the frequency and severity of thunderstorms as the temperature rises. That won’t just impact Ohioans in the form of tornadoes and other dangers, but warming may also cause more algal blooms, like those that caused Toledo, Ohio to ban drinking and cooking with tap water for two days in 2014. The public has recognized this threat for what it is — a crisis.

Projected Mid-Century Temperatures in the Midwest.
Projected Mid-Century Temperatures in the Midwest.
Source: Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment

Acknowledging these problems is just step one. We are learning more every day about the factors that contribute to these issues and what is at stake if we as a nation continue to ignore the reality of the situation. Now we need to do something about it.

We need to act. That sounds simple, but being concerned about the problems we face without doing anything about them is a recipe for disaster. That’s why it is so vital for the candidates for our highest office to have serious, achievable plans to address both runaway income inequality and the climate crisis — including President Trump. We can’t stick our heads in the sand any longer on these issues.

So, what are we to do about these two seemingly separate issues? Solve them together.

The things we need to do to solve climate change — moving to cleaner forms of energy, making our homes, businesses, and industries more efficient and less polluting, driving cleaner vehicles that save us money at the pump, repairing and modernizing our infrastructure, and more — present an opportunity to rebuild communities hit hard by factories that have been shuttered and jobs that have been shipped overseas or lost due to changes in the energy market to move away from energy sources like coal.

The BlueGreen Alliance put forward a blueprint — called Solidarity for Climate Action — showing we can reduce the emissions driving climate change, while also creating the kinds of good-paying jobs that will help close the gap between working people and CEOs and the ultra wealthy. You shouldn’t have to work three jobs — or hit the daily lottery — to have a secure, middle-class life in our country.

As the contenders in the presidential race go to Ohio to debate, we need to hold them accountable for having real plans to solve the real problems facing America — including climate change and income inequality.

We unite labor unions and environmental organizations to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that create quality jobs.

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