Bold cli­mate change plan de­serves spirited sup­port

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - BY MARY ROSE O’SHEA, CONOR O’SHEA AND MICHAEL O’SHEA

Grass­roots protests for racial jus­tice, sweep­ing the coun­try, show that when Amer­i­cans are fired up, our coun­try can make se­ri­ous progress on big struc­tural prob­lems that have been mired in in­ac­tion.

Next up: sav­ing the planet from over­heat­ing.

For far too long, our na­tion has shrugged off the slow-mo­tion dis­as­ter of cli­mate change. We have al­lowed politics to de­feat com­mon sense, not un­like the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

So now is the time to rally be­hind a thought­ful and am­bi­tious new cli­mate change pro­posal in the U.S. House. We should get be­hind, as well, a host of ex­cel­lent cli­mate change rec­om­men­da­tions made last week by a task force led by Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den and Sen. Bernie San­ders, I-Vt.

“I think it is ex­cit­ing,” Jack Darin, di­rec­tor of the Sierra Club Illi­nois, told us on Mon­day of the House plan. “It is great to see that [cli­mate change] has not fallen off the radar screen in light of every­thing else that is go­ing on.”

The House’s 500-page plan is not ex­pected to sur­vive in the Se­nate. Not this Repub­li­can Se­nate. But it pro­vides a sound ba­sis for ag­gres­sive grass­roots ac­tion; and it makes a com­pelling case that cli­mate change is not an in­tractable prob­lem — we can beat this thing.

And COVID-19 has shown us the fool­ish­ness of wait­ing to act un­til dis­as­ter is fully upon us.

Amer­ica has failed as a global leader in the COVID-19 pan­demic, with cat­a­strophic re­sults. Why not learn from this and take a strong lead now on cli­mate change?

At the end of June, the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on the Cli­mate Cri­sis laid out a group of bills to deal with cli­mate change. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ex­pects the House to ap­prove them.

Among the pro­vi­sions: All elec­tric­ity must come from re­new­able or zero-car­bon nu­clear sources by 2040, ve­hi­cles must be elec­tric, build­ings should be much more en­ergy ef­fi­cient, nat­u­ral gas leaks in in­fra­struc­ture should be re­duced and mass tran­sit should be significan­tly ex­panded.

The plan also calls for the fed­eral government to sub­si­dize the devel­op­ment of re­new­able en­ergy with a goal of end­ing green­house gas emis­sions from fos­sil fu­els by 2050.

“It’s bold,” said Josh Moger­man, spokesman for the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil. “It has a lot of es­sen­tial things that need to be ad­dressed and ad­dressed quickly.”

The bill fits with what cli­mate ex­perts say are the key paths we must take: re­new­able en­ergy, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and us­ing only elec­tric­ity to power trans­porta­tion, homes, com­mer­cial build­ings and in­dus­try. The aim is to limit the in­crease in global warm­ing to 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius.

Many Repub­li­cans call the plan a job­skiller that we don’t need, es­pe­cially at a time when the econ­omy is groan­ing be­neath the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. But the longer we fail to act, the worse the ul­ti­mate dam­age to the econ­omy will be. At min­i­mum, the House cli­mate change plan of­fers Democrats shov­el­ready leg­is­la­tion they can act on should they pre­vail in the Novem­ber elec­tions.

The House bills also would cre­ate new jobs for peo­ple who retro­fit pol­lut­ing build­ings and in­fra­struc­ture and who build new green projects. It would help work­ers in fos­sil fuel in­dus­tries to tran­si­tion to green jobs and steer new jobs to eco­nom­i­cally chal­lenged com­mu­ni­ties.

Around the world, we al­ready are see­ing ex­treme weather and ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, dam­ag­ing ecosys­tems and bio­di­ver­sity. And peo­ple are catch­ing on to the im­mense threat. A ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans now say deal­ing with cli­mate change should be a “top pri­or­ity,” com­pared with just 38% in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

Wor­ri­some signs are all around, in fact, that cli­mate change might fry our planet more quickly than we think.

Days of 100-plus-de­gree heat in Siberia are fu­el­ing wild­fires and melt­ing the per­mafrost, re­leas­ing green­house gases into the at­mo­sphere and ac­cel­er­at­ing warm­ing. The bell­wether “Dooms­day glacier” in the Antarc­tic is los­ing ice at an ever-more­quickly rate.

Be­cause of un­usu­ally hot weather, Chicago just recorded its long­est streak of high-pol­lu­tion days in more than a decade. Last month tied for the sixth-warm­est June on record. In­creas­ingly heavy storms made May the wettest on record, for the third year in a row.

In a study pub­lished ear­lier this month, sci­en­tists said that even if we cut car­bon emis­sions now, it could be decades be­fore we see the ben­e­fits. That’s an argument for get­ting started.

The House Democrats have put forth a good plan.

They need your help to make it hap­pen.

We see “Make Amer­ica Great Again” bumper stick­ers along­side sham­rocks and tri­col­ors. We hear Ir­ish Amer­i­cans tell Black Amer­i­cans to “get over it” be­cause Ir­ish Amer­i­cans had it just as bad and still “made it.”

We read with shame the Ir­ish sur­names of the po­lice of­fi­cers dis­missed for us­ing ex­ces­sive force.

We are horrified by the con­tin­ued mur­ders of Black peo­ple by po­lice and stand in sol­i­dar­ity with Black Lives Mat­ter. As Ir­ish Amer­i­cans born and raised on the North­west Side of Chicago, we call on our com­mu­nity and our­selves to re­flect upon and ac­knowl­edge our com­plic­ity in up­hold­ing white supremacy.

En­ter any Ir­ish pub and you’ll see me­mo­rial posters pic­tur­ing free­dom fight­ers like Michael Collins, who helped lead the move­ment for Ir­ish in­de­pen­dence in the early 20th Cen­tury. Any Ir­ish singsong will likely in­clude a rebel song ex­tolling acts of brav­ery and sol­i­dar­ity against the Bri­tish op­pres­sors.

Ev­ery Ir­ish Amer­i­can learns the story of Ir­ish suc­cess, the rise from down­trod­den un­wanted immigrants fac­ing “Need Not Ap­ply” signs to win­ning the White House in 1960. Yet, too of­ten, we use a car­i­ca­ture of our own eth­nic his­tory to di­min­ish or dis­miss Black Amer­i­can his­tory. Cof­fin ships that car­ried immigrants flee­ing famine were not slave ships and in­den­tured servi­tude was not chat­tel slav­ery.

Why does our his­toric suf­fer­ing pro­duce dis­dain rather than em­pa­thy for Black peo­ple dis­crim­i­nated against and lynched to­day?

The Ir­ish made it through hard work and thrift, yes, but also by reap­ing the ben­e­fits of white supremacy and set­tler colo­nial­ism as the “Ir­ish be­came White.” We also did our part to up­hold seg­re­ga­tion as we com­peted with Black Amer­i­cans for low-wage jobs and hous­ing. Ir­ish Amer­i­can res­i­dents and politi­cians did their part to both main­tain and profit from seg­re­ga­tion.

For the Catholic among us, our re­li­gion calls on us to love our neigh­bors as our­selves. We pro­fess the so­cial jus­tice val­ues of re­spect for hu­man life and dig­nity, of sol­i­dar­ity and hu­man equality. Yet we be­tray the very val­ues we claim to up­hold.

St. Pa­trick’s Day is a day on which “ev­ery­one is Ir­ish” and we ex­press pride in our cul­tural her­itage. But as we crit­i­cally re­flect on our po­si­tion as Ir­ish Amer­i­cans, we must chal­lenge what it means to be Ir­ish in the United States and use our white priv­i­lege to help dis­rupt sys­temic racism.

We’re en­cour­aged by anti-po­lice bru­tal­ity protests in Dublin, and by the many Ir­ish Amer­i­cans who have stepped up in demon­stra­tions in Chicago, Bos­ton, and else­where, do­nated to bail funds, vol­un­teered for com­mu­nity cleanups, or even just fi­nally ad­mit­ted that “Black Lives Mat­ter.”

But we must do more.

As we try to move from by­standers to ac­tively anti-racist white al­lies, here are some first steps to con­sider tak­ing:

En­gage in con­tin­ual re­flec­tion on our un­earned priv­i­lege and how we per­pet­u­ate sys­temic racism; seek out, lis­ten to, and sup­port or­ga­ni­za­tions al­ready do­ing anti-racist work (check out Show­ing Up For Racial Jus­tice).

Ed­u­cate our­selves about the Black ex­pe­ri­ence in Amer­ica: visit cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions like the DuSable Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory or par­tic­i­pate in the 2nd An­nual Bronzevill­e Bike Tour of ar­eas in­volved in the 1919 Chicago Race Ri­ots. Can’t make it on the 25th? A self-guided tour based on the one hosted last year by the New­berry Li­brary and Black­stone Bi­cy­cle Works is also an op­tion.

Attend cul­tural fes­ti­vals and events be­yond Ir­ish Fest and the St. Pa­trick’s Day Pa­rade; ac­tively po­si­tion our­selves to meet peo­ple who don’t look like us. Per­haps start by pa­tron­iz­ing a Black-owned busi­ness.

Con­sis­tently share lit­er­a­ture and me­dia cre­ated by non-white au­thors that fea­ture di­verse per­spec­tives and char­ac­ters with our chil­dren. Baby shower com­ing up? Con­sider gift­ing Ibram X. Kendi’s “An­tiracist Baby.”

In­ter­rupt racism in so­cial set­tings — say, by call­ing out racist jokes at the lo­cal pub or your block party; en­gage friends and fam­ily in hon­est dis­cus­sions about race in Amer­ica.

Lobby al­der­men to sup­port po­lice re­form, in­clud­ing a Civil­ian Po­lice Ac­count­abil­ity Coun­cil (CPAC) and po­lice-free schools, and af­ford­able hous­ing de­vel­op­ments.

We’re all at dif­fer­ent places in this jour­ney, but if we truly be­lieve in sol­i­dar­ity and hu­man equality, let’s com­mit to tak­ing at least one ac­tion to­day.

In this great city of neigh­bor­hoods, let us truly em­body what it means to love thy neigh­bor.

The O’Shea sib­lings grew up in May­fair. Mary Rose (Twit­ter @an­muin­teoir) is a CPS English teacher. Conor (Twit­ter/In­sta­gram @ ceoshea773) is a Chicago and Ur­bana-based land­scape ar­chi­tect. Michael O’Shea (Twit­ter @chicagoshe­a) is a higher ed­u­ca­tion doc­toral stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Toronto.

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

Peo­ple sit under the sun near Foster Beach in Edgewater this month. Be­cause of un­usu­ally hot weather, Chicago just recorded its long­est streak of high-pol­lu­tion days in more than a decade.

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

A man raises his fist and holds a sign say­ing “White si­lence kills” at a down­town Chicago march com­mem­o­rat­ing June­teenth.

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