Bold climate change plan deserves spirited support
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.
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.
A man raises his fist and holds a sign saying “White silence kills” at a downtown Chicago march commemorating Juneteenth.