Responsibility, racism and the climate urgency
The Sept. 20 Youth Climate Strike underscored the concern of many for the future of the planet. This concern is rooted in the constant deluge of news regarding the harmful impacts of human activity on the planet and the positive feedback loops that threaten to accelerate the decline of the natural systems that sustain life on Earth, including human life. It is clear that urgent action is needed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change and to set a path forward for a more sustainable future.
Interestingly, the Western suburbs of Chicago exemplify the challenges that prevent us from meaningfully moving forward. Affluent suburbs like Naperville, St. Charles, Batavia and Geneva are locked into contracts that mandate their electricity come from climate- and health-destroying coal. The Faustian bargain these communities made through their electric agencies is potentially catastrophic for several reasons.
First, these contracts discourage citizens of these cities from using their immense resources to install renewable energy sources like rooftop solar.
Second, the energy contracts to which they are beholden financially discourage them from supporting legislation to address the threat of climate change on the scale that is necessary. In essence, the bond holders take precedence over the community.
Third, with data indicating that poor and minority households are more likely to bear the burden of a warming planet, the inability or unwillingness of affluent communities to meet their societal obligations is a form of environmental racism that will exacerbate health disparities and augment the suffering of vulnerable communities.
This is unacceptable. Springfield and these municipalities must find a coal-free solution. The youth of the world have called on all of us to act. We owe it to future generations to break free of our parochial concerns and to act with urgency to meet the challenge before us.
Robert M. Sargis