When I was in elementary school, I placed second in the science fair. My project was a response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I proposed they create a giant sponge to skim the oil from the top of the ocean. This was the late 1980s, and it was the largest oil spill during that time. Now as a mother of two teenagers, I have frequent conversations with my children about environmental degradation and climate change. We can’t escape it. The effects of inaction are all around us.
This past year alone has brought record-breaking weather events: floods in Eastern Kentucky, wildfires in the Western U.S., record numbers of destructive hurricanes and scorching heat in the Pacific Northwest. Last week a violent storm in Michigan dumped more than 5 inches of rain in an hour, flooding homes and businesses and wiping out critical infrastructure for tens of thousands in the city of Detroit. As this article was being written, the ocean itself was on fire, the result of a ruptured deep sea natural gas pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico. Without urgent and sustained actions, the world is on a path to an even more dangerous future.
Three years ago, a report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions in half over the next 10 years to avoid catastrophic climate change, prevent massive human suffering and reduce the risk of economic and ecosystem collapse. In the years since, social movements calling for governments to act on climate have swelled around the world and here in the U.S., led by young people, indigenous communities, Black and brown grassroots leaders, and others on the frontlines of climate, economic, racial justice and health disasters.
But to date, nothing has been done to fundamentally change the reckless path we are on. Our government’s failure to respond to the climate crisis is the result of the poisoning of our democracy by the same fossil fuel companies and financial interests that have long polluted our air, water and land. In a secretly recorded video interview, Exxon’s senior director of federal relations recently explained how the oil giant is getting its way, once again, in Congress by funding “shadow groups” to shape public opinion and influencing a set of senators, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, to strike corporate taxes and other provisions from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill. Unfortunately, it seems to be working.
The budget reconciliation package emerging from negotiations in the Senate is a far cry from the scale or nature of investments that are actually needed to address the interlocking crises of climate, racial injustice and economic inequality. Climate champion Sen. Bernie Sanders has a package that falls short of the investments necessary for my children’s children to be safe from extreme weather and other events that result from our negligence to reverse our impact on the environment.
As demonstrated during the pandemic, the harm caused by climate disasters is falling first and hardest on Black and brown people, disabled and elderly folks, low-income rural and urban communities and frontline workers.
Of the six congressional leaders Kentucky sends to D.C., Congressman John Yarmuth is the only one to show his support for reversing the climate crisis. This year as House Budget chairman, Yarmuth is in a strong position to ensure Kentuckians actually feel his support by leading the effort to make bold investments in climate and in the care economy.
Below is a set of specific 10-year investments that Yarmuth and Democrats in the U.S. House must insist be included before the package passes the House:
- $100 billion for conditional, forgivable hardship loans to transform rural electric cooperatives and the communities they serve
- 1.1 trillion for clean renewable energy
- $600 billion expand and electrify public transit
- $600 billion to retrofit public buildings, including schools and public housing
- $700 billion in direct spending for child care and early learning
The package must also have strong labor and equity standards, and ensure the rights of indigenous people to free, prior and informed consent.
Kentuckians need relief. We need support through this economic transition. We need leaders who understand the longer trajectory for a more sustainable future for generations to come; leaders who are unafraid to be visionary and fight for what’s necessary; leaders who reject the status quo. We are all too familiar with the corrupting power that coal, oil, gas and electric utilities wield over many of our elected officials. And yet today, we actually have a chance to replace greed and criminality with compassion and love for people and the environment.
Congressman Yarmuth is in a significant position to lead the change. This moment will not come again. He can see himself as a facilitator of a sprawling and messy budget process, or he can choose to be a transformational leader who refuses to compromise our future to Exxon, corrupt senators or anyone else, and to push Congress to make the investments necessary for Americans to shift in our approach to climate change.
Yarmuth recently wrote about critical race theory, and it could apply to the public debate over climate change. He noted, “Average American citizens are just trying to get from paycheck to paycheck and to build a safe and secure future for their families. CRT is probably not on their radar. But our history is everyone’s history, and to the extent that it explains how we interact to create a society, the last thing we should be doing is ignoring that history.” Like CRT, what’s happening with the places where we reside and places where other of God’s creations live, we can no longer ignore it. We must act with valor.
I can remember a time when the global climate crisis was a scary but abstract idea, something most people thought simply affected polar bears and the tundra. Over time, more and more of us face the daily effects of irresponsible decisions to choose profits over people. The days of thinking it’s someone else’s problem to deal with into the future are over. We must act now!
One of my mantras with my children is to be “thorough and complete.” Kentuckians need Congress to be thorough in its approach to tackle climate change, racial justice and updating our economy. And we need Congressman Yarmuth to complete his tenure as “the Kentucky statesman who helped save the planet and transform the commonwealth’s economy.” Anything less is just a nod to mediocrity, and cause for despair.
Cassia Herron, who lives in the Wyandotte neighborhood, is a community organizer and chairperson of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Yarmuth and Democrats must insist on these investments for the climate and care industry