By Leah Hartung
From floods to air pollution to wildfire smoke to severe droughts, climate change has reached Illinois. Right now is our only opportunity to prevent the worst effects of the climate disaster, and I’m calling on Congress to prioritize climate action.
Illinois’s climate is changing: This summer brought the worst drought in over 30 years and record-breaking heat, and storms are eroding Chicago’s lakeshore and filling our basements with sewage. Yet we are also in a moment of opportunity. Congress’s infrastructure package has the capacity to make the 2020s an era of transformation and secure a just and sustainable future for all of us—but only if Congress goes bigger to match the scale of the crises we face.
Modernizing and greening transportation is key in achieving climate justice. In 2019, transportation accounted for 29% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. We need to invest $600 billion in expanding and fully electrifying public transit, which would reduce harmful emissions that disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities while increasing the reliability and frequency of service.
Investments in improving schools and housing create good jobs, protect communities’ health, and fight climate change. A $600 billion investment in energy efficiency, weatherization, electrification, decarbonization, and other building upgrades is a critical step in America’s fight against climate change and racial injustice. The students in Illinois’s most dilapidated public schools and the residents of our crumbling public housing are overwhelmingly low-income people of color.
Not only is burning fossil fuels the main driver of catastrophic climate change, air pollution from fossil fuels also is directly responsible for more than 300,000 deaths in the United States each year. A disproportionate number of these deaths occur in low-income and communities of color. To achieve President Biden’s climate goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, we need at least $1.1 trillion in public investments in renewables. Furthermore, clean energy is popular: 89% of Illinoisans support funding research into renewable energy.
Yet we do not have to choose between jobs and the environment: Each investment is estimated to create around an additional 1.2 million to 1.3 million good-paying jobs every year.
As a college student in the middle of a pandemic, graduating soon into a global recession while the news is filled with disastrous climate change-related events, I feel anxious about the future. Still, I remain hopeful that this could be a turning point in human history. Our fight today to go bigger on the infrastructure package will influence the climate trajectory of our country. This is our time to address climate change and build thriving communities. Congress, go bigger and fight for my future!
Leah Hartung is a rising senior at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia), where she is double-majoring in environmental science and economics. She is a fellow for Clean Power Lake County as well as a member of our steering committee and our representative for the Illinois Green New Deal Coalition.