An activist’s reality check for legislators
As a 17-year-old Connecticut climate activist, I spend a lot of time trying to influence policies, so that our state takes bold climate action. At the beginning of the 2021 Connecticut legislative session, a couple other activists and I had a meeting with two members of the state legislature about a bill we wanted to introduce, which would prevent Connecticut from continuing to build new fossil fuel infrastructure. The meeting wasn’t going well, which, honestly, was not unexpected.
We went into the meeting knowing that the legislators we were meeting with weren’t going to fully agree with us, and there would be pushback. They spent most of the meeting telling us why what we wanted to do was impossible, how it would destroy jobs. Their concerns were (somewhat) understandable although misguided, since expanding green energy and energy efficiency requirements instead of fossil fuels would most certainly create jobs. But then, toward the end of the meeting, one of them went further, telling us that while he understood that it is our job to be visionary, and push for big changes, legislators have to “live in reality.”
I froze, didn’t know how to respond, and I left the Zoom seething, especially after he told us that we really wanted the same things, just had minor differences, not a huge gap in how we understand the urgency and action necessary to address climate change. And so I just want to be clear: I am living in reality, the activists and advocates I work with, are living in reality. Perhaps it’s different from the reality that those legislators are living in, since our reality includes people who are already being affected by climate change: Puerto Ricans who are still trying to recover from Hurricane Maria, and the other hurricanes that devastated their island; farmers in the Midwest, whose field were flooded, destroying crops and killing livestock; those in California, who watched their homes be swallowed up by flames; us, right here in the Northeast, who are dealing with stronger hurricanes, sea level rise, and shifting insect habitats; and millions more, all over the world, who are also dealing with more and more effects of climate change.
These changes, and sorry for the metaphor, are just the tip of the iceberg of what we young people will face in our lifetimes. This is our reality.
Compared to the status quo, what advocates are proposing might seem too much, too soon, too fast, but you need only look at climate science to know that this is not true. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have approximately nine years before our “climate budget” runs out. Should we exceed that climate budget, it means greater global warming, more disasters, more climate refugees, more deaths, and climate feedback loops, which further speed up global warming.
At this point in the legislative session, it’s too late for the fossil fuel moratorium to become a bill and pass. However, it’s not too late for a lot of other good bills to get through. If you’re a legislator, please support:
HB 6551, which focuses on environmental justice and ensuring that communities of color and low income communities are not disproportionately burdened with polluting facilities;
SB 882, which codifies (puts into law, so that it can be enforced) Gov. Ned Lamont’s Executive Order number 3, that sets greenhouse gas reduction targets for Connecticut;
SB 356, which will help those living in affordable housing receive energy efficiency retrofits;
SB 127, which would allow electric vehicles to be sold directly in Connecticut;
SB 1024, which will help with more equitable zoning, something that is also good for the environment;
HB 6662, which declares racism a public health crisis, and is intrinsically linked to climate change, because of the disproportionate effect that it has on Black, brown and indigenous communities.
If you’re not a legislator, please support these bills by calling or emailing your legislator and telling them to support them. It’s time we act at the scale of the crisis we are facing, and that means passing bold climate action bills that will help us accomplish the greenhouse gas reductions necessary to meet the IPCC targets, and protect our communities from the ever worsening effects of climate change.
Sena Wazer of Mansfield is Co-director of Sunrise CT.
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