By: Madeline León and Kayla Butler
As we make our way through the first month of this new year, the JCI team has reflected on the many issues that we are passionate about and the issues that come to the forefront of our mind for this new year. The social, economic, and racial justice issues that plague our society require immediate action and bold solutions. Elected officials, organizations, and individual people need to think about creating a more equitable world for future generations. When thinking about bold leadership and change, it requires collaboration on behalf of many. In order for change to occur, we can’t continue to do mental gymnastics around resolutions. Looking at issues through a critical lens will allow us all to continue pushing for compassionate change.
In a perfect world brought to you by the JCI team, we propose the following resolutions we’d like to see occur in 2022:
It’s no secret that fossil fuel combustion is the number 1 cause of climate disruption. Over the last 200 years humans have progressively disrupted Earth’s natural systems and caused an average global warming of about 1.07 degrees Celsius. For years, global leaders have talked about divesting from fossil fuels and moving towards renewable energy, and while solar power is the fastest growing renewable energy market, the move towards renewables is taking too long. In August 2021 the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change released another report on the state of the climate. According to the report, we have disrupted the climate system so much that even after an ideal carbon neutrality, we would still suffer the consequences of fossil fuel dependency for several decades.
At the Glasgow Climate Change Summit in 2021, the US and other nations agreed to end public financing of carbon-emitting projects by the end of 2022 in order to prevent a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (a path the world is on its way towards). In response, President Biden told embassies to limit public funding of carbon-intensive projects overseas. However, a loophole in this allows for a review process to exempt oil and gas projects that are deemed in the best interest of national security or provide energy to vulnerable populations, and the policy does not apply to existing projects already receiving American financial support. This is where the hope for a carbon-neutral world is lost, considering that the U.S. military is the single-largest carbon polluter on the planet. With this loophole, any carbon-intense military project can be written off in the name of national security.
Even if the U.S. bypasses these loopholes and halts financial aid abroad, we cannot forget about the projects back at home. From oil spills to pipelines cutting through indigenous land and raising the numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women, carbon-intense projects in the U.S. harm the Earth and its inhabitants in more ways than just emitting carbon dioxide and contributing to global warming. The Biden Administration has stated plans to slowly wean the U.S. off of fossil fuels and become net-zero by 2050, but that seems so long from now. According to the IPCC report, we’ve basically reached the point of no return with major changes as we are already starting to see extreme weather changes and communities of color (including Black and indigenous communities across the world) disproportionately affected.
In order to curtail climate disruption and decrease its effects, we need net-zero or near net-zero by the end of 2022. The climate waits for no one.
To the rest of the world, living in California is the pinnacle of the American dream. However, over half a million Americans are experiencing homelessness and the majority of them live in New York and California. In 2021 over 151,000 people living in California experienced housing insecurity – and the number is rising. For a so-called progressive state, California cannot provide one of the most basic living essentials. Solving homelessness is more than just providing jobs. A 2020 study found that about half of Los Angeles’s homeless population recently had a job, so we can throw out the age-old assumption that homeless people do not work or do not want to work. In fact, houselessness is tied to cost of living, low wages, and an expensive and inaccessible healthcare system, leaving our unhoused neighbors with the inability to even work. Surely, during a health crisis, working to maintain adequate housing should be the least on someone’s mind. This is why California decided to provide hotel living spaces at the start of the pandemic – but what about those constantly living in a health crisis? Besides the rising cost of healthcare, lack of mental health resources and proper support and acceptance (especially for members of the LGBTQ+ community) can contribute to someone’s unstable living situation.
For a massive issue with multiple roots, we must invest in social programs while also working to shelter our unhoused neighbors. The city of Los Angeles has been juggling the idea of affordable housing without actually coming up with a probable solution, but hopefully California’s surplus budget and other continued efforts will help make strides for sustainable housing solutions. Los Angeles attempted to build tiny homes throughout the city, but other organizations like LA CAN are building sustainable neighborhoods with more amenities with much less budget. If we want to tackle California’s housing crisis we’re going to have to get serious about funding social programs and permanent supportive housing that support the physical health, mental health and economic prosperity of our neighbors, as well as work to increase minimum wage and make the cost of living more affordable. Additionally, addressing the racial wealth gap and systemic disparities will be instrumental for ending homelessness and poverty altogether as past racist policies created a monstrous wealth gap that can only be closed through intense financial redistribution.
We need full student debt cancellation. Anything else is just embarrassing at this point. President Biden rejected a plan that Senators Warren and Schumer put forward to cancel $50,000 in student-loan debt, but said he supported canceling $10,000. According to the Brookings Institution, student loan debt makes up the second largest share of household debt. $1.7 trillion is the total national outstanding amount of student loan debt. With tuition rising faster than students’ ability to pay, the amount of students taking out loans to finance their degrees has risen largely over the past two decades.
Is student loan forgiveness tied to the racial wealth gap? Absolutely. According to the U.S. Census, Black adults were twice as likely than White adults to have student loans. Black adults with student debt and a college degree have lower homeownership rates than White high school dropouts. This means that because Black households carry more student debt, their creditworthiness is pushed down.
Unfortunately, education is treated as if it is a privilege in this country instead of a right. Education is absolutely necessary in order to critically think about solutions for the world and its people. Canceling student debt alone will not lead to racial equity. However, if we allow this debt crisis to continue further, we are hindering racial and economic equity. Student loan forgiveness wouldn’t just benefit the individual, but the economy as a whole. Canceling student debt would improve the labor market and allow for stronger participation in the economy, allowing people to make investments such as buying a home.
The United States has an ethical duty to waive intellectual property protection against coronavirus vaccines. In November 2021, Joe Biden called on nations to agree to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines. In a Reuters article, Biden said, “The news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations. This news today reiterates the importance of moving on this (waiving intellectual property protections) quickly.” Biden and other leaders of wealthy countries have come under scrutiny for not being vocal about waiving property protections for the vaccines.
Waiving COVID-19 vaccines intellectual property protections would allow other countries to develop and make their own vaccines. A campaign to temporarily waive intellectual property protections was initiated by India and South Africa, is backed by over 100 countries, and backed by international organizations like the World Health Organization and the United Nations AIDS charity. Reducing the barriers to countries producing their own vaccines, especially underdeveloped and developing nations, would allow for the end of COVID-19 and the many variants that have evolved over time.
Those who argue against waiving IP protections for COVID-19 vaccines think that allowing the production of these vaccinations globally would make them more expensive and do nothing to speed global vaccination efforts. In addition, those against waiving IP protections are largely pharmaceutical companies, who we already know, don’t have everyone’s best interest at heart.
A long term solution that would enable the global south to get the spread of COVID-19 under control, would be to amp up global vaccine production. In order for this to be achieved, the U.S. and other wealthy nations must directly support and carry out waiving IP protections.
The United States is one of the wealthiest nations and one of the only nations among a few that does not have national paid family and medical leave legislation. Nine states and D.C. have a paid family and medical leave law. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act was reintroduced in the 117th Congress and if it were to pass it would create a national insurance program to provide workers up to 12 weeks of their partial income for their own serious health condition or that of an immediate family member, and the birth or placement of a child.
COVID-19 has exacerbated many existing issues in our society, including the detrimental effects of not having paid family and medical leave on families, health, and the economy. Although Eighty-four percent of U.S. voters support a national paid family and medical leave policy that covers all working people, Biden decided to recently take out paid leave from his Build Back Better agenda.
A national paid family and medical leave insurance program would greatly support working people, their families, and businesses. The benefits of paid leave are strongly supported by research. For example, California’s statewide paid family leave program is associated with improved health outcomes for children in early elementary school. In addition, paid family and medical leave increases worker productivity, improves employee morale, and allows small businesses to compete better with larger businesses.
Studies have shown that expanding access to paid family leave would support long-term female workforce outcomes and would help women pursue and stay in high-wage careers. We need national inclusive paid family and medical leave immediately. The benefits and the impact that national legislation that this country desperately needs would have many positive long-term effects on our society as a whole.
We feel strongly about the outlined resolutions that we’d like to see enacted this year. Even though they might sound large or scary, we urge you to look at these crises through a critical lens in which the effects on our society and planet are detrimental. The “resolutions” outlined are not only what we would like to see happen in 2022, but what needs to happen. The environmental, housing, and debt crises are just a few among a list of many horrors that deter our society from being more equitable. We are enthusiastic and hopeful that people will continue to pressure elected officials to work in the best interest of our society and recognize that change can’t wait.