‘Failing to act urgently is unreasonable’: Cori Bush calls for racial justice at WU climate change dialogue

| Staff Reporter

Congresswoman Cori Bush called for urgent racial and climate justice at a panel hosted by Washington University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis, April 7. 

The two universities partnered to host the webinar “Green Recovery, Climate Solutions, and a Just Transition” as part of a nationwide series of over 125 climate dialogues aimed at solving climate change by 2030. The panel was moderated by Washington University sophomore Nina Silverstein

In addition to Bush, Sal Martinez, CEO of Employment Connection, Ashlen Busick, Senior Regional Representative of Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP) and Dr. Rachel Owen, Executive Director of Missouri Science and Technology (MOST) Policy Initiative, spoke about methods of combating climate change in Missouri. 

Emphasizing the disproportionate impact of climate change on Black and Brown communities, Bush set forth several goals in her address, including eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from all federally owned buildings by 2022. In response to those who called her goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030 “unreasonable,” Bush says that her constituents cannot wait for change.

“The people of St. Louis, of Ferguson, of Normandy, of Florissant and communities all across Missouri’s first district cannot wait around for what establishment politicians think is reasonable,” Bush said. “Failing to act urgently is unreasonable.”

She emphasized that President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan is insufficient, explaining how she hopes to “transform the very structures of how we live.”

“I am fighting to make electricity, clean water and sewage and broadband basic human rights for everyone to enjoy,” Bush said. “Bringing utilities into public ownership is just one example of how we can set up our system to work for people and the planet.”

Touching on a similar note, Owen argued that despite a lack of state-wide dialogue surrounding climate change, the problem’s widespread impacts should bring it to the forefront of lawmakers’ attention.

“We really try to focus on thinking about climate as part of every issue, you know, even if they’re talking about a health insurance bill,” Owen said. “There’s health impacts of climate change, and that’s something that should be brought into the conversation. So, instead of trying to force climate change as a priority, we try to really highlight how climate is this overarching problem that’s affecting everything.”

Owen also discussed the work of MOST Policy Initiative in bringing scientific information to state policymakers with the goal of inciting palpable political change.

“Primarily we work here at the capitol in Jefferson City talking with lawmakers and answering their questions related to science,” Owen said. “We also have a statewide science network called the local science engagement network where we work with scientists across the state to help them find ways to elevate science and policy conversation.”

Furthermore, to get more government resources and investments in St. Louis, Bush added that 

Missouri’s first congressional district needs to gather more data on environmental justice to fully understand its disproportionate impacts.

“This work will build on the incredible, locally-developed Environmental Racism in St. Louis Report from 2017, so that we can make the case for the resources and investments that Black and Brown and Indigenous communities so urgently need,” Bush said. 

Bush said her perspective on climate change is informed by her first-hand experience growing up in St. Louis. 

“There are 11 more 90 degree days per year in St. Louis than when I was born, and that number will continue to grow,” Bush said. “When I was unhoused and living in my car, rising temperatures made it even less safe for my children and me as the windows replicated the greenhouse effect on a small scale. When I did have housing I was often unable to afford to turn on the air conditioning in the hot St. Louis summers.”

All four panelists also provided recommendations for fighting climate change, including understanding local, statewide and federal climate policies, supporting Missouri climate nonprofits and engaging in dialogue with those who have differing opinions on climate change.

Martinez described how his company, Employment Connection, began a solar panel installation training program as part of a larger effort to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the regional green economy. Notably, participants earn significantly more than the 2020 average Employment Connection client wage, $10.96 per hour.

“We’re very excited to be in a position to help establish a pipeline for minorities and women to enter this very, very exciting field,” Martinez said. “The participants received $15 an hour for their paid internships, and then several of the participants were ultimately hired by private solar companies at wages starting at $16.50 per hour with benefits.”

Despite the challenges ahead for climate advocacy and legislation, Bush remained optimistic at the panel. “Together we will fight to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030. Even when so many tell us we can’t,” Bush said. “We are going to decarbonize the economy and create millions of jobs in the process, and we are going to do it together as a fundamental part of our campaign for racial justice and climate justice.”

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