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1. Waking Up to Connections:

Global Warming, the Built Environment, and Public Health

In the face of massive economic, environmental and demographic transitions that our communities face, the goal of Part One of the Toolkit is to help participants develop new ways of thinking and acting, confronting large scale global and regional changes that are affecting our everyday lives.  Historically, California’s land use and transportation policies have contributed to racial, economic, and health inequities, negatively affecting communities of color and vulnerable populations throughout the state.  However, in response to the threat and reality of global warming, recent legislation is restructuring transportation and land use throughout the state.  Communities of color, and their social justice allies, are engaging in the formal processes established by the Metropolitan Planning Organizations to implement the legislation.  This section of the Toolkit and Workshop quickly reviews the basics of SB375, and discusses how social justice activists are engaged in the process to deliver real benefits to communities.  The Workshop focuses on ways that community based groups, and other organizations can participate in the process.

Signs of the Times:  Confronting Large Scale Global and Regional Change

All around the world, records show increases in global average temperatures, of the air and ocean.  Warming of the earth’s polar regions is causing the melting of ice, with ominous consequences for rising sea levels on the whole planet.  The world’s glaciers are retreating, and extreme weather related disasters are becoming everyday events around the world. A close watching of these events has led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to conclude in February 2007 that warming of the world’s climate system is “unequivocal.”   Global warming is the continuing rise in the average temperature of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans caused by increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, resulting from human activities.

In the popular conception, the biggest effect of climate change is its altering sea ice conditions and melting the habitat of polar bears, or its radical reduction in the size and diversity of tropical rain forests.   Often overlooked is the fact that global warming is bad for people, here at home in the United States and around the world. It is especially bad for the health and safety of vulnerable populations, people of color, and the poor.

Automobiles and Global Warming

 

Scientists say automobiles, the second largest source of pollutants contributing to global warning, is creating nearly 1.5 billion tons of CO2 annually. And the amount of pollution is growing.  In 2007 emissions from the transportation sector accounted for 36% more than it did in 1990, 2/3 of it from cars and trucks.  Not only is over reliance on automobiles, and the associated transportation infrastructure investment  a major cause of global warming. Over use of the private petroleum based vehicle is also contributing to health inequities at home in California, in the United States, and abroad.

Automobiles and the Built Environment

Use of private vehicles as the dominant mode of transportation in the United States has radically transformed the American landscape since the 1950s.  The national Highway Defense Act of 1956 led to exploding metropolitan regions across nation as suburbs grew and left cities behind.  Americans began to travel great distances every day that would have been unthinkable two decades earlier when commuters relied on walking or trolley cars to go most places.  Billboards and fast food restaurants sprung up along the nation’s freeways. Today a third of all the land in the City of Los Angeles is paved over with streets, roads, parking lots and garages.   From 1956 until the present the federal government gave the lion’s share of its subsidies to highway construction, with only a paltry amount for mass transit for urban locations.

The Public Health Connection

Today, over reliance on automobiles is resulting in a public health crisis of enormous proportions, most notably in a wide spread obesity epidemic, and respiratory and cardiovascular disease caused by air pollution, with negative impacts on the most vulnerable populations. With the rising tide of traffic congestion, the inconveniences of parking, sky rocketing gasoline costs the reality of pollution and global warming many people who fled the cities are considering a return to the cities, and a life without automobiles.

 

The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008,

In 2008, the California legislature passed the landmark Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, also known as Senate Bill 375 or SB 375,  requiring reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions by cutting down on the use of cars and trucks throughout the state Passenger vehicles are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions statewide, accounting for 30% of total emissions. The Metropolitan Planning Organization for each region must develop a “Sustainable Communities Strategy” (SCS) that integrates transportation, land-use and housing policies to plan for achievement of the emissions target for their region.

 

New Opportunities for Communities of Color and their Social Justice Allies

 

Historically, California’s land use and transportation policies have contributed to racial, economic, and health inequities, negatively affecting communities of color[1] and vulnerable populations throughout the state.  However, in response to the threat and reality of global warming, recent legislation is restructuring transportation and land use throughout the state. This new legislation is creating new opportunities to plan healthy communities, and a narrow opening to begin addressing long-standing health inequities caused by the built environment in California. Communities of color, and their social justice allies are engaging in the formal processes established by the Metropolitan Planning Organizations to implement the legislation.  They are gaining access seats at the table, learning about the approaches being advanced by professional planners, city and city and suburban governments.  But they are bargaining hard for solutions that can deliver real benefits to their communities.  And they are bringing to the to the task a brand of bottom up innovation born of decades of struggle on the streets of their own neighborhoods.

 

How You Can Participate

 

·        Understand the signs of the times, the threats and opportunities that global warming presents to your community.

·        Learn How Your Community has been affected by bad land use and transportation planning in the past.

·        Work with Non Profit Organizations, local governments, or County Health Departments to plan and develop projects to improve your community.

WEB RESOURCES

 

Health in All Policies (HiAP), Executive Summary

 

VIDEO RESOURCES

 

Health In All Policies