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Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham...Earth

by Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Lennox Yearwood

Our country, and the world, faces the duel crisis of a failed American economy and climate change that threatens life on this planet as we know it.

Poor people and people of color are feeling the adverse impacts of climate change first and worst, from rising energy prices, to increases in heat-related illnesses. Ultimately, however, the destruction resulting from our planet's rising temperature will not be discerning of national borders, a family's yearly income, or the hue of one's skin.

It is similar to what we are all experiencing in these difficult economic times. No matter the race of a worker, when the lights are turned off for the last time in the manufacturing plant, or in any business for that matter, suddenly we amazingly look alike.

We as a nation, must commit to an inclusive transition to a clean energy economy, by decreasing our dependence on dirty fossil fuels, investing in new clean-energy technologies, and putting the people who most need jobs back to work. Our leaders must take urgent action -- this year -- to put us on a path to a prosperous clean energy future.

This is not a new call to action. We have been hearing experts, business leaders, and politicians talk about addressing climate change for a while now. Last year the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Now the Senate is debating whether they too will pass a clean energy jobs bill.

At the start of Black History Month, ten years into the 21st century, it is time for the African American community to have their voices heard on this issue. For too long communities of color have not seen climate change as their problem but we must now be a part of the solution.

African American's historical struggle for economic opportunity inherently ties into the necessary global effort to reduce CO2 emissions and stop climate change. This was a topic that we discussed at the recent 13th Annual Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project Economic Summit in New York, and a topic that we will be mobilizing African American communities and young people around on the upcoming "Hip Hop Caucus Clean Energy Now! Tour".

A clean-energy economy means new jobs, less pollution in our communities, and increased opportunities for our children. This month the Hip Hop Caucus Clean Energy Now! Tour will travel from New Orleans to Washington DC, through numerous states in a historic effort to ensure the voices of African Americans, and our young people, are heard on the issue of clean-energy jobs and protecting our planet.

Millions of our friends and neighbors are out of work. We can create 1.7 million new jobs and green our cities from the ground up if our leaders in Washington make a commitment to supporting clean-energy here in America.

Clean-energy investments create more than three times the number of jobs than the equivalent investment in the fossil fuel industry. These are green-collar jobs for roofers, electricians, and construction workers, jobs like retrofitting old buildings and constructing new buildings that are energy efficient.

There will also be opportunity for entrepreneurs of color to have ownership in the clean-energy economy. African Americans will be able to go from being energy consumers to also being energy producers.

A clean-energy future is an answer to African American's calls for jobs, affordable costs of living, and safer, healthier neighborhoods. Big oil and their lobbyists have kept the United States dependent on dirty energy, and they have been allowed to disproportionately pollute the air that children breathe and the water they drink in low-income communities of color.

We know the devastating health effects of pollution. It is the asthma that disproportionally affects our children, it is the allergies that get worse every year, it is the heatstroke that kills too many of our seniors.

Furthermore, if we do not stop climate change, it will only become more expensive to heat and cool our homes, an already horrible burden on low-income families. Households that are at or below 150 percent of the poverty level, or sixty percent of their State's median income, spend an average of twenty percent of their income on home energy bills. This is six times more than the national average.

There is nothing more dangerous and violent than nations becoming less productive, and more desperate, in the face of ecological disaster. Conversely, the greening of our cities can help us to take back our streets. Studies have shown that residents living in greener surroundings report less fear and less violence in their communities.

We can revive our economy, we can regain our communities, and we can restore our planet, by investing in clean-energy solutions. Fifty years from now, we want our grandchildren and their children to live in a prosperous healthy world because of the decisions that our leaders have the opportunity to make this year. We do not want our future generations to know that they are suffering and dying from drought, flooding, food insecurity, and hurricanes, and cannot afford energy for their homes, because of the lack of political will in Washington under our watch.

During Black History Month every year we celebrate the accomplishments of our African American heroines and heroes. This year, we will make history starting with a clean energy bus tour from New Orleans to Washington DC so that future generations can look to this moment and see that when all of God's children come together, humanity is capable of saving the planet and providing access to health and wealth for everyone.

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