Home Improvement Could Be A 1st Step Toward Climate Justice

Workmen have invaded Flora Dillard’s house on the east side of Cleveland. There’s plastic over everything and no place to sit, but Dillard doesn’t seem to mind. “A couple of days of inconvenience is nothing, compared to the results that you get,” she says.

She’ll benefit, and so might the climate. The workers have plugged cracks around the foundation and rerouted an air vent to reduce the risk that mold will form. They’re insulating the drafty upstairs bedroom, which was so cold that Dillard had resorted to multiple electric space heaters this past winter. They also discovered and fixed a gas leak. “I could have blew up,” Dillard says. “Me and my grandbabies and my brother who’s here visiting.”

She didn’t pay for any of this. She can’t afford to. But thanks to government and utility help, her house soon should be more comfortable, safer and cheaper to heat. She’ll burn less fuel, cutting down on the amount of greenhouse gases she sends into the air.

The repairs to Dillard’s home are an example of what’s sometimes called “climate equity” — efforts to fight climate change in ways that also attack the country’s social and racial inequities. Millions of homes in American cities are in dire need of rehabilitation. Those homes often are concentrated in predominantly African American neighborhoods, which have suffered from discrimination and redlining. Many contain health threats like mold, lead contamination and indoor air pollution.

The same homes frequently are the least energy-efficient, requiring more fuel to cool and heat. Residential housing accounts for about a fifth of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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