Susan J. Demas
Michiganders are in the midst of what might be one of the most dangerous summers on record due to climate change. Prolonged drought is putting us at increased risk for wildfires. The warming of the Great Lakes means more extreme storms in our region. And heat waves in our urban centers like Detroit are predicted to become even deadlier. The damage to human health, property, and communities from these disasters is incalculable — and climate change underlies and exacerbates all of them.
Our future doesn’t have to look so bleak.
Thanks to visionary leadership from the White House, there is a plan on the table that could not only tackle the climate crisis through clean energy development and infrastructure revitalization but could also provide ample family-supporting jobs and make big moves towards racial justice in the process. President Joe Biden’s landmark proposal to “Build Back Better,” with climate, jobs, and justice at its core, through big and bold investments in clean energy and transportation.
As much as Michigan has much to lose from the climate crisis, we have everything to gain in combating it. Addressing climate change will require large-scale decarbonization of our transportation sector, our country’s biggest source of carbon pollution. This means ramping up domestic production of electric vehicles, which would provide family-sustaining, union jobs to Michigan workers. Manufacturing employs 14.2% of our state’s workforce, with about 16,200 workers employed in the industry in the Lansing metro area. Biden’s initial proposal invests $300 billion to retool and revitalize American manufacturers, including providing incentives for manufacturers to invest in innovative clean energy projects is a win for everyone.
Not only would big, bold investments in clean energy be a boon for Michigan’s workers and economy, the plan also targets 40% of the benefits of its investments towards the marginalized communities who have historically borne the brunt of carbon pollution. Low-income communities and communities of color suffer disproportionately from the health and financial impacts of climate change, including superstorms, heat waves, or exposure to toxic pollutants. These communities deserve breathable air, drinkable water, and a seat at the table as we work to address the climate crisis.
During my time in the state Legislature, I have fought fiercely to uplift the voices of all Michiganders, especially those who have been historically underrepresented. To see a plan moving to Congress that upholds that same commitment to environmental justice fills me with hope for a brighter future.
We might not always realize the ways in which racial justice is intertwined with our infrastructure, but consider this statistic: Michiganders who take public transportation spend an extra 67% of their time commuting, and non-white households are 5.6 times more likely to commute via public transportation. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities are also more likely to be located near major thoroughfares for dirty heavy-duty vehicles, like freight trucks and buses, leading to much higher rates of asthma than for white counterparts. Biden’s original plan includes an $85 billion investment to modernize public transit and provides tax credits to replace polluting heavy-duty vehicles with electric trucks and buses.
We don’t have to condemn our children and grandchildren to live under the shadow of climate change. Instead, we can envision a better, healthier, safer and more just America. I want Congress to know that this isn’t just the best course of action, but the most popular one: 60% of Michiganders are worried about the climate crisis, and further polling shows that a solid majority of voters in Michigan’s competitive House districts also support investments in clean energy and environmental justice.
I am proud to represent mid-Michigan, a community that has always committed to prioritizing the good of future generations. But the people of Michigan can’t do this alone. We need those who represent us in Washington to voice their enthusiastic and robust support for big and bold investments in climate, jobs, and justice. As Michiganders, we must play our part in the massive opportunity that lies before us. It’s time for our leaders to put pen to paper and make President Biden’s bold vision a reality. Michigan’s future is in your hands.
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