Anyone who knows me will attest that I am not likely to be sitting quietly in the corner, especially when people are talking about energy and climate issues.
When the discussion is about equity and climate, though, I am eager to listen. I recognize that other folks, especially Black and Latinx communities—have important perspectives that I will not understand unless I listen while community members share their thoughts and ideas.
I spent the last two Saturdays at forums where I had the opportunity to listen to folks talk about their experiences with and ideas about various energy and climate-related issues. The sessions were organized by Kaiping Chen, UW-Madison faculty member in Life Sciences Communications, who partnered with two community-based organizations, Wisconsin EcoLatinos and Urban Triage. The project—which will be ongoing through next year—aims to amplify Black and Latinx voices relative to energy, climate and environmental justice issues. The Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change is participating in these discussions because we recognize it is a unique opportunity to learn from the communities who are often most impacted by climate change.
Addressing equity and environmental justice is a cornerstone of our Climate Action Plan (CAP). The Guiding Principles chapter of the CAP opens with a clear statement about the injustices associated with climate change:
Globally nations and communities of color, as well as low-income populations, are responsible for fewer GHG emissions than other populations and are vulnerable to, and disproportionately affected by, the adverse impacts of climate change, including health impacts, loss of home and property, and general quality of life.
Equity advocates, energy utilities, and national leaders are all talking about strategies to address these inequities. Definitely we can learn from what others around the US are trying. It is important, though, that we also learn from our own communities, that we create forums where local people can share their thoughts and ideas. Heeding local voices is particularly important right now, because recent federal legislation includes new funding for environmental justice efforts and we want our communities to be ready to receive some of those funds to address priority issues locally.
About 100 people participated in the two forums. The discussions I heard were thoughtful and inspiring. The official summary of all the discussions will still be forthcoming from Kaiping Chen and her team, but I walked away convinced that there are lots of local folks ready to work together to create a future that is more equitable for everyone. I am excited to see this work—and the conversations—continue. In the meantime our office will continue to prioritize equity in all of our climate action work.
Kathy is the Director of the Dane County’s Office of Energy and Climate Change. In that role she's leading efforts to implement the Climate Action Plan. Prior to coming to Dane County, Kathy led Cool Choices and, prior to that, she led Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program.
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