Youth climate groups back CEJA

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Illinois Youth Climate Movement, Sunrise Movement Chicago say Gov. Pritzker’s eight principles for a clean, renewable economy are not enough

The Illinois Youth Climate Movement steps off on a march through Chicago a year ago. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

The Illinois Youth Climate Movement steps off on a march through Chicago a year ago. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Adelina Avalos and Kelsie Strobel

As young millennials and Generation Z, we are becoming voters and active citizens under the extraordinary circumstances of drastic political division, a global climate crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic. With the recognition that these crises, like so many issues, disproportionately impact low-income workers and communities of color, it is clear that we must demand and fight for solutions that prioritize equity and environmental justice in all aspects.

It’s these values that drive our call for climate action. We are pleased that Gov. Pritzker has taken the first step to reaffirm the urgency of transitioning to a clean energy economy by restarting working groups focused on energy legislation guided through eight principles. We are thankful that the need to decarbonize the energy sector has been brought to the forefront after watching it take a back seat for our entire lives.

While we admire Springfield’s dedication to these principles, they are barely a first step toward a clean-energy economy, and we still have a long way to go. The governor’s goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2050 is not enough; anything short of 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2030 will leave our communities vulnerable to increasingly devastating flooding, air pollution, and record-setting high temperatures. To be a true leader in clean-energy innovation, Illinois must do more than adopt the minimum acceptable timeline to decarbonize the energy sector.

Equity is the focus of the seventh principle outlined by the governor, but it must be central to all energy and climate-action solutions, not a stand-alone idea. In Illinois, we are plagued by environmental racism every day. During the already-devastating COVID-19 pandemic, Little Village endured the demolition of the old Crawford coal-power plant, which left the neighborhood covered in dirt and particulate matter, with no advance notice from Hilco Developers. In an area harshly hit by COVID-19, this absolute disregard for the health and well-being of Little Village residents — who are predominantly Hispanic — is a clear example of injustice. We cannot address this and other severe and costly issues of systemic environmental racism without pursuing a clean-energy economy that puts equity and justice at the forefront of every action and prioritizes economic recovery and job transitions in the communities most burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As youth activists, we haven’t shied away from loudly voicing our concerns and demanding change at climate strikes and protests around the world, nor have we shied away from the less glamorous work of spending hours reaching out to our representatives and our peers, to push the urgency of the climate crisis onto the political agenda. And now, given the challenges that we continue to face every day, we need more than eight aspirational ideas. We need clear and actionable plans. We need Gov. Pritzker and the General Assembly to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act. CEJA prioritizes a just transition to a clean-energy economy for all communities, especially those home to closing coal plants or those plagued by pollution. CEJA meets the urgency and magnitude of the climate crisis with clear, actionable steps that we need now, not in five or 10 years.

It is not just our future that is at stake, but our present. Climate action can’t wait. Environmental justice and economic recovery can’t wait. CEJA can’t wait.

Adelina Avalos, 18, is with the Illinois Youth Climate Movement, and Kelsie Strobel, 24, is with Sunrise Movement Chicago. Both reside in Chicago.

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September 25, 2020 at 10:13AM

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