Letter from SEIU Climate and Environmental Justice Committee

Date: October 4, 2017

Dear Local Leader:

As SEIU members and their families in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico bravely rebuild after devastating hurricanes, the role that climate change played in the severity of these natural disasters deserves our full attention. We raised this issue at our 2016 convention in the aftermath of the wildfires that devastated Fort MacMurry, Alberta, Canada and are witnessing similar events again, with wildfres raging throughout the Western and Pacifc Northwestern United States.

Some elected offcials say that immediately after a disaster is not the time to talk about climate change. We suggest just the opposite – this is exactly the time to talk about the impact of human activity on our climate and the damage done by ongoing environmental injustices that so many of our members face.

The consensus among scientists is that the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels and warmer oceans made the recent storms far more destructive than they would have been in previous decades. It is a fact that warm water fuels hurricanes and greatly intensifes thei strength. Meanwhile, ice caps continue to melt and oceans have warmed an average 1 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century.1 As a result, sea levels have risen about seven inches during that time2. This translates into more storms with increased potential for catastrophic damage,3 as we’ve seen it all too clearly and tragically over the last month.

Right now, 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico are facing a growing humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. At least 21 people have died and most people have no water or power. There is no cell service and roads have been totally washed away or blocked. Puerto Rico’s ongoing fiscal crisis and already dilapidated public works system will make the recovery and rebuilding effort even more difficult.

In Houston, low-income and immigrant communities bore the brunt of environmental injustice long before Hurricane Harvey.4 They now face environmental threats from toxic fumes, mold and contaminated water.5 Flooding has wiped out as many as 40,000 homes in Houston, home to more than a dozen oil refineries, including the largest petrochemical refning and production complex in the country.6

Hurricane Harvey triggered the release of more than one million pounds of toxic air pollutants into the local community. 7 Residents of Houston’s industrial areas – disproportionately low--iincome and minority communities – have reported unbearable chemical smells coming from the many plants.8

Meanwhile in Florida, millions of residents lost power and suffered wind and food damage when Hurricane Irma enveloped the state. Yet Florida’s political leaders continue to deny the existence of climate change,9 and have even banned state agencies from using the term.10 This willful ignorance endangers lives and livelihoods by weakening the state’s ability to mitigate the effects of climate catastrophe and harming the region’s resilience.11

We know politicians and corporations will not address climate change or environmental injustice on  their own. We have the responsibility to advocate for policies and practices that mitigate the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations and to eradicate environmental racism wherever we see it.

As our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida courageously rebuild their lives and communities, take action and contribute to the SEIU Disaster Relief Fund. By doing so, SEIU members and staff can provide direct assistance to members in the affected areas. Such assistance also demonstrates the strength of unity and solidarity in our SEIU family. As we organize to help our brothers and sisters in need, we must also highlight the root causes of these catastrophes in our ongoing effort to advance policies to combat the scourge of climate change now and in the future.

Attached, you will fnd a short training for your E--BBoard and//oor member activists that will drive  home the relationship between climate catastrophes and climate change, and social, economic, racial and environmental justice. We ask that you conduct this short training so that we may deepen the understanding of our members.

In Unity

SEIU Climate and Environmental Justice Committee:

Maria Castaneda, 1199United Healthcare Workers East

Maribel Castillon, Local 721

Barbara Cape, representing SEIU Canada

Sandra Diaz, United Service Workers West

Norah Dooley, Local 509

Lenore Friedlaender, Local 32BJ

Adam Glickman, Local 775

Jamie Gulley, Healthcare Minnesota

Amanda Lapina, Healthcare Pennsylvania

Kristin Lynch, Local 1021

Maggie Long, Local 49

Ron McClellan, Connecticut Employees Union Independent

Rebecca Miller, United Healthcare Workers West

Dian Palmer, Healthcare Wisconsin

Jared Rivera, SEIU 2015

Casey Rukeyser, 1199 Northwest

Estella Vazquez, 1199 United Healthcare Workers East


1. https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-sea-surface-temperature

2. https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/sea-level/

3. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/stormsurge-stormtide.html

4. https://www.texasobserver.org/2451-separate-but-toxic-the-houston-environmental-magnet-school-thats-an-environmental-catastrophe/ ;
https://www.texasobserver.org/2451-separate-but-toxic-the-houston-environmental-magnet-school-thats-an-environmental-catastrophe/ ;
http://www.alternet.org/environment/environmental-racism-poisoning-houston

5. https://thinkprogress.org/houston-toxic-air-after-harvey-ecb68ada3d36

6. https://www.freespeech.org/video/petro-metro-toxic-tour-houston-refineries-superfund-sites-wake-harvey

7. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/09/01/analysis-harvey-triggered-release-nearly-million-pounds-toxic-air-pollutants

8. https://www.democracynow.org/2017/8/29/hurricane_harvey_zip_code_race_determine

9. http://newsweek.com/2016/02/05/marco-rubio-climate-change-denier-south-florida-flood-crisis-420326.html

10. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article12983720.html

11. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/florida-governor-has-ignored-climate-change-risks-critics-say/2017/09/08/04a8c60a-94a0-11e7-aace-04b862b2b3f3_story.html