This article is presented as part of New Economy Week, five days of conversation around building an economy that works for everyone. Today’s theme is Combating Climate Change Without Leaving Anyone Behind.”
In Columbia, South Carolina, Black landowners and farmers asked, “Can we create a solar or wind farm to generate clean energy that can help build our wealth and keep our land?”
In Buffalo, New York, low-income residents of color pushed for energy-efficiency investments to cut energy bills and create jobs.
And, in Richmond, California, Asian communities demanded that Chevron stop polluting their air and that the government invest in community-owned solar projects.
These stories are part of a common and resounding theme of strategies and solutions that communities of color have been advocating for over the years—we must invest in community-owned renewable energy if we want to build our local economy, cut our energy costs, and create cleaner environments for our kids.
This is a simple, yet far-reaching solution. And it’s not new.
For decades, indigenous communities and communities of color have been demanding environmental justice, healthy communities, and economic opportunities that can benefit all of us.
Yet, our policies and advocacy efforts have been slow to catch up. These efforts have prioritized status quo solutions that invest in top-down, large-scale approaches, rather than ground-up, community-based responses.
For example, New York State is undergoing potentially transformative energy reforms, yet public agencies propose placing control and ownership of renewables in utility hands without real accountability or participation by community. The reason: Let the market achieve the deepest cuts in carbon emissions as quickly as possible.
Carbon reduction alone cannot solve our climate crisis, because our climate crisis is continuously fed by our economic one. And, the market all too often fails to work for many of us, particularly communities of color—the fastest growing population in our country.
Too many communities bear the burden of utility pollution, pay increased energy bills that benefit outside investors, and have lost their jobs (and worse, lives) working for an energy industry that solely values the bottom line. Switching to large-scale renewables will not necessarily erase these burdens or return to communities what they have been deprived of—a healthy, vibrant, and economically sustaining community.
Thus, renewables alone are not the answer. Look at it this way: The plantation system was powered by renewables. Wind powered the ships; the sun powered the crops. Without a fundamental change in the relationship between people and our economy, the promise of renewables will fail people.
Yet, renewables can be a critical driver in building locally sustainable and healthy economies. Renewables are abundant, cleaner, and more accessible than our status-quo energy system.
To harness them and address climate change effectively, we need to invest renewable solutions in the very communities that are suffering from inequity. Energy Investment Districts (EIDs) can be a way to enable communities, particularly communities of color, to develop local renewable energy generation and energy efficiency programs that are accountable to the community, produce healthier neighborhoods, reduce energy costs, create good jobs, build the local economy, and combat climate change.
We can do better. Our planet and communities depend on it.
This post was written for the New Economy Coalition's second annual New Economy Week, an event exploring what it will take to build an economy that works for people, place, and planet. To learn more, visit New Economy Week.