We Can Build A Better, Greener, Equitable Planet
Millions of Americans are out of work. We’ve seen an upswing in COVID-19 cases and we aren’t even through the first wave of the pandemic. Our nation is at risk for more job losses, further economic downturns, and a continuing public health crisis.
And yet, the year 2021 could be a very good year for the climate, and for racial justice and equity.
Climate activists for decades have been promoting the idea that renewable energy could be a big job creator, while also reducing our planet’s carbon emissions. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden thinks so too. Last month Biden rolled out his clean energy plan. It’s an ambitious, detailed, $2 trillion proposal that could help us recover from the massive job losses of this year.
Per Biden’s website, the Build Back Better plan will be “a national effort aimed at creating the jobs we need to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure now and deliver an equitable clean energy future.”
As cities work toward 100 percent renewable electricity, the plan calls for a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero emissions no later than 2050. We still need to see the fine print, but commitments such as these at the federal level can help states move along with their own plans and spur American ingenuity. Biden’s plan could mean tackling our failing infrastructure, reinvesting in our auto industry, accelerating transition to electric vehicles, and improving public transit with zero-emission options.
The plan also looks to upgrade buildings and weatherize homes, while also creating 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units. It also incorporates climate-smart and conservation-minded technology to agriculture, which currently contributes an estimated 25 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions.
Biden’s plan gives a nod to expanding the middle class, and companies would be required to strictly enforce the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage guidelines. It calls for jobs to be filled by diverse, local and well-trained workers, including women and people of color. Environmental justice, Biden noted, is a “key consideration in where, how and with whom we build.” In other words, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may just get her Green New Deal.
Also last month, on July 9, our congresswoman and environmental champion for decades, Diana DeGette, unveiled a new bill to cut carbon emissions from U.S. electricity producers. Her bill would require electricity producers to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050. She smartly wrote it to speed up the deadline should technology be developed sooner, and provide financial incentives for innovation in 100 percent reliable zero-emissions electricity.
In addition, Rep. DeGette acknowledges the importance of providing assistance to workers in the fossil fuel industry. As Biden directly speaks to environmental justice in his plan, DeGette’s plan addresses help for minority and low-income communities. A new office titled the Climate Resiliency Corp would “hire workers to help make our communities more resilient to climate change.”
Let’s take these plans and contrast them to the work being done by the man currently in the Oval Office. The day after Joe Biden unveiled his clean energy plan, President Donald Trump announced plans to disembowel the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
For 50 years the law has safeguarded our air, water and land by requiring detailed environmental assessments for major infrastructure projects. The administration has claimed the changes will ease regulatory burdens for American businesses. Critics call Trump’s gutting of the law a handout to polluters and an attack on low-income and communities of color.
“These watered-down rules would turn the whole purpose of the law on its head, giving a greater voice to the worst-polluting industries while shutting out the communities with the most to lose and fewest resources to defend themselves against pollution and other harms,” Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, said in a statement.
Over the past three years, President Trump has rolled back over 100 environmental and public health protections – protections that helped disadvantaged communities.
As we all brace for the second jolt of the first wave of the pandemic, these comparisons are worth thinking about. Imagine a country that reenters the Paris Climate Agreement, a country where good jobs are to be had to help the planet and one that is committed to racial justice and equity.
That could be us.
Tracey MacDermott is chair of the board of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. She was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2017, and is currently the Statewide Co-Chair of the Climate Reality Project for the 100% Committed Campaign. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.