Electricity is an essential component of our every day lives – brightening our rooms, cooking our food, charging our phones and computers, keeping our homes the right temperature, running factories and stores. But here in Georgia, significant amounts of the electricity for our homes and businesses (62% in 2011, though the amount was lower in 2012 and will likely continue to fall) come from ten coal-fired power plants, nine of which are over 30 years old and many of which lack modern pollution controls. While producing the electricity we use, these plants also produce 168,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants each year, leading to more than 500 annual deaths in Georgia alone. Some pollution is released into the air, while some is stored in coal ash lagoons, where it can leach toxic heavy metals into nearby water. These true costs of power coming from coal are often hidden as silent dangers to our health and environment. We are excited to bring these equity issues around electricity costs into the very timely conversation Partnership for Southern Equity is leading about equity in Atlanta.
Modern residential segregation based on household income and personal wealth is an active component of our Atlanta community, fueling our region’s sprawl, increasing transportation conflicts and ultimately producing an ever larger number of challenged and disinvested neighborhoods. Young entry level workers, senior retirees and working families of all ages are often unable to secure safe, affordable, high quality housing in any neighborhood without the benefit of owning a car to access their jobs and basic services. Homeownership and control of land arguably remain the most impactful basis for wealth building, self sufficiency and the economic sustainability of American families. However exponentially increasing numbers of working Atlanta families are unable to attain ownership of a quality home in a stable neighborhood or land control of any type. Our entire nation continues to suffer the adverse effects of the economic recession and housing crisis, which has disproportionately impacted low and moderate income Atlanta families and neighborhoods.
Since its founding, Atlanta has always aspired to greater heights. In its brief 174 year history, Atlanta has risen from ashes to an economic engine for the South and the birthplace of the U.S. civil rights movement.
Atlanta's leadership in economic development and social equity embodies two of the three pillars of sustainability. Completing the triad of sustainability by intentionally planning for the environmental health of our city presents the next opportunity for Atlanta's growth. By doing so, we will also ensure Atlanta's economic prosperity and civil rights legacy for generations to come.
However, as we have seen throughout our nation's history, new economies such as the currently emerging "green economy" often leave overlooked those peoples and communities that are traditionally underserved. There is no doubt that the people and communities that are omitted feel the sting more than any but our society as a whole also loses in these instances as these omissions leave glaring holes in the very fabric of the tapestry that defines great cities and thriving economies.
The theme resonated with me from the first time I heard it - "Healthy Communities, Strong Regions, A Prosperous America". As a preventive medicine and public health physician, I was immediately intrigued by the theme of Equity Summit 2011, which took place in Detroit, Michigan on November 8-11. I am accustomed to similar subjects being associated with medical and public health conferences, but I had never participated in a conference on this topic with people outside my field. Several years ago, as a public health student, I wrote an essay highlighting the importance of collaborative efforts of community and academic partners, the government and the private sector, to ensure that resources are more equitably distributed and that all people are able to effectively navigate systems within America. The Equity Summit 2011 theme immediately brought this to mind. I knew that I would feel "right at home" at the conference, and I did.