Gerald Stansbury is the president of the NAACP's Maryland State Conference.
This fall, some Maryland parents sent their children into classrooms where the temperature topped 100 degrees by 11 a.m. And we routinely send many children out the door with their latest accessory: an asthma inhaler.
We know that unless we act quickly, we will send our children into a future of even hotter days with more dangerous smog, more frequent flooding and stronger storms.
As is the case already, African American and lower-income communities will struggle the most and have fewer options for coping on this dangerously hotter and more polluted planet.
Yet we hesitate and dawdle, showing no sense of urgency.
Our tentative approach isn't working. We owe all children a shift toward abundant solar and wind energy in ways that bring environmental justice — as well as jobs — to historically exploited and disadvantaged communities. That's the promise of the Clean Energy Jobs Initiative , which is backed by more than 600 organizations, including the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP .
Much of our energy still comes from burning coal, natural gas (from hydraulic fracturing) and trash. And no matter what one of the new science advisers for the Environmental Protection Agency says, our air is not "too clean for optimum health." Exactly the opposite, in fact. A 2013 MIT study found that Baltimore had the highest rate of deaths from pollution among 5,695 U.S. cities: 130 deaths per 100,000 people, or about 800 deaths each year, more than double the distressing number of homicides. A third of Baltimore children have asthma , about 50 percent higher than the national average. Air pollution also is linked to preterm births and underweight babies, heart disease and cancer. Yet we can't send the doctors' bills to the fossil-fuel industry.
Communities of color are more likely to live near our state's polluting power plants: 68 percent of African Americans and 40 percent of Latinos live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. In Prince George's County, Brandywine residents, about 72 percent of whom are African American, are confronting five large fossil-fuel power plants — one coal-fired and four gas-powered — built or permitted within 13 miles of their neighborhood. The community is part of a federal civil rights complaint against the final proposed gas-fired power plant.
We can and must change the energy model rooted in environmental racism and climate disruption. The Clean Energy Jobs Inititative proposes that we boost current efforts by doubling Maryland's renewable electricity goal from 25 percent by 2025 to 50 percent by 2030. That means utilities would have to buy more solar and wind energy. It also means we would stop kidding ourselves that burning trash is a clean energy source.
In the process, Maryland would prevent 290 premature deaths a year from asthma attacks alone. Coping with climate disruption would reduce the hidden medical costs that fossil-fuel pushers conveniently overlook when promoting their so-called cheap energy.
Getting more of our energy from solar and wind would also create jobs. Already, our state's solar industry employs more than 5,400 people . Between 2015 and 2016, the solar industry grew 20 times faster than our state's economy. By requiring more renewable energy, Maryland could create nearly 20,000 jobs in the solar industry, while a typical 250-megawatt wind farm would create almost 1,100 jobs.
So far, African Americans have been left behind in Maryland's transition to clean energy, making up only 5.9 percent of the solar workforce. Similarly, women hold just 28 percent of these jobs. Strengthening our clean-energy goals would give us a chance to train a diverse workforce and to create wealth in communities where we have too long accepted economic inequality. All while reducing pollution, improving our health and cutting 8.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2030, the equivalent of taking 1.7 million cars off the road.
The National Climate Assessment released in November outlines the already dire consequences of our historic inaction and warns of unpredictable and sudden changes to come. It is no wonder then that Maryland residents — particularly the young — are clamoring for clean energy to power their world: Curtis Bay students organized and eventually blocked an incinerator near their neighborhood, resisting efforts to again make their home a dumping ground. Students, business owners, faith leaders and environmental stewards worked for years to finally ban fracking in our state. Communities are fighting pipelines and power plants.
With the Clean Energy Jobs Initiative, we can continue this momentum and make Maryland a leader in climate justice.
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