Earth Day 2021: Addressing Climate Change Nationally And Locally

Use Earth Day 2021 to consider how climate change is being addressed and how we can do more, from the Biden administration’s climate action plan to local education and outreach efforts.

President Biden’s recently proposed 2 trillion dollar infrastructure plan that outlines how the administration hopes to use federal spending and large-scale investment in infrastructure projects to transform the American economy. The plan articulates how these efforts would address the impending climate crisis and racial inequality in the United States, which brings attention to how both of these issues are directly impacted by economic policy. The infrastructure plan addresses climate change by investing in transforming two of the largest sources of pollution in the US: cars and electric power plants. The plan proposes $100 billion toward modernizing the electric grid and $174 billion toward manufacturing and purchasing electric cars. The plan also considers how workers will be impacted by the policy, and includes a $16 billion program to help workers transition to new work in transitioning to a greener economy, like repairing leaking oil wells and closing coal mines. The administration also calls for investing in communities that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, focusing on low-income residents and people of color. The plan includes $50 billion in investments to defend infrastructure against wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

Biden’s infrastructure plan is making headlines and drawing attention for its ambition, but it still does not achieve what experts have said is necessary to adequately confront climate change. The plan draws on principles of the Green New Deal (primarily that addressing climate change can create millions of jobs). However, experts estimate that in order to meet emission standards presented in the Paris Agreement, the US government needs to spend at least $1 trillion annually (or 3 to 5 percent of GDP) for a decade. The Biden plan, in its current proposal, would spend about 1 percent of GDP per year and would distribute the entire first half of the plan over the next eight years. While Biden’s plan is obviously a step in the right direction and contains many positive and necessary policies, it is important not to accept this proposed solution as humanity’s savior. 

The national discourse surrounding climate change, particularly climate change policy, is stunted by purposefully manipulated narratives and bad faith political opposition. Senator Mitch McConnell has already pledged to fight Biden’s plan “every step of the way,” without leaving possibility for compromise. Environmentalism under the climate crisis is often from extreme positions. Supporters of climate change policy (from environmental activists and everyday citizens concerned for the planet’s future) are motivated by fear of the future and acknowledging humanity’s role in creating that future. This fear, guilt, and responsibility spurs action. But this advocacy is met with elected officials expressing tepid validation (fearing political backlash), indifference, or active opposition (such as denying the crisis exists in the first place). How does the individual escape that toxic discourse in exchange for a more productive response? For locals in the Hudson Valley, getting involved with local efforts started by BardEATS and the Hudson Valley Sunrise Hub, respectively, is one step in the right direction. 

National elected officials turn the climate crisis into a series of technical policy battles, which distracts from the very real environmental, economic, and racial injustices that burden the country. The Hudson Valley’s relationship to the local environment is a primary factor in sustaining economic growth and development. The climate crisis has certainly affected the Hudson Valley, especially for the area’s farmers. Shifting seasons, rising temperatures, longer periods of drought, and increasing pest populations have burdened local farms, jeopardizing the region’s food supply chain and economic growth. In order to keep these conditions from worsening, local government entities must be willing to take on ambitious initiatives, including banning fossil fuels, retrofitting buildings to meet energy efficiency standards, and ensuring access to clean public transportation. Just as crucial is the duty to support workers affected by the transition to a greener economy by providing access to education and job training. 

But these economic and working conditions are haunted by the region’s tradition of land dispossession, and land development reliant on enslaved labor. Addressing the climate crisis and saving the environment cannot be isolated from those injustices.

In honor of Earth Week 2021 (April 18th to April 24th), BardEATS, the Office Of Sustainability, Environmental and Urban Studies, American Studies, Bard Farm, and the Center for Civic Engagement  have sponsored a lecture series titled “A Start to Healing Through Land, Food, and Seed” to “help educate the campus and community about BIPOC land dispossession, land/food sovereignty work, and the violence that has occured on the land Bard College exists on.” The series includes a presentation, “More Than Just Land: A History of the Stockbridge-Munsee” by Heather Bruegl, Cultural Affairs Director of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, on Monday April 19th. The presentation, like the other events and screenings in the series, will create a space for action oriented discussion and questions. (You can register for events here.)

After learning about food/land sovereignty and food sustainability in the area, you can get involved with the Hudson Valley Sunrise Hub to engage in local political action and advocacy.

 Sunrise Movement is a nationwide youth movement with nationwide goals, all pertaining to the global threat of climate change. The cornerstone of the movement’s advocacy, the Green New Deal, calls for public policy to “decarbonize” the economy (beginning with getting the electricity sector to zero carbon emissions) and establishing a federal jobs guarantee in order to ensure a just transition to a clean economy. Sunrise follows an organizing model in which the national organization provides resources to empower locally organized “hubs” across America. The Hudson Valley Sunrise Hub at Bard College is one of these “hubs,” and is working to make climate change an urgent priority in the local region. As a global threat, climate change looks different for communities depending on geographic and economic contexts. 

The Hudson Valley Hub has been active since the fall of 2018. This semester, the group is organized by co-hub coordinators Rose Reiner ’23, Julia Gloninger ’21, and Ari Greenberg ’23. Gloninger said that there are many different ways to contribute to the movement’s national goals and principles based on the specific issues faced by a locality. Last year, the Hudson Valley Hub focused on supporting NY State Senate candidate Thearse McCalmon, who campaigned on making NY Senate District 49 a “Green District” and enacting Universal Basic Income. Sunrise volunteers made thousands of phone calls to voters. Although McCalmon lost in the general election, Gloninger said supporting Green New Deal champions is an inspiring part of the movement’s work. 

Greenberg described the movement as a wave that crashes every election and prepares for the next one as the tide recedes. Between each election the Hudson Valley Hub works to get more elected officials, candidates, and communities to support the Green New Deal in order to make sure that each wave returns with more people power than the last.

Following this wave model, Hudson Valley Hub coordinators said that as the election “tide” recedes, their strategy has shifted from supporting Green New Deal candidates to holding elected officials accountable, educating people about the Green New Deal, and building a powerful network of local organizations working for environmental, social, and economic justice.

With more government officials supporting climate policy, from President Biden’s climate plan to Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan’s pledge to use 100% renewable energy by 2030, the Hudson Valley Sunrise Hub is planning to focus on accountability. “Now we have this window of opportunity and we need to take advantage of it by applying the pressure,” Gloninger said. 

The Hudson Valley Hub is planning an Earth Day teach-in in collaboration with local colleges to educate people on the Green New Deal. Additionally, the group has been in contact with other Sunrise Hubs and local organizations, including Rise Up Kingston, to bring Bard students into local activism and advocacy work. 

Despite the urgency and overwhelming scale of the climate emergency, Hudson Valley coordinators said that getting involved with the Sunrise Movement gave them a sense of hope and responsibility. “There is apathy when it comes to these things,” Gloninger said. “People feel scared and fearful, and they don’t know how to begin or where to start. You feel paralyzed. But in moments like this, you have to act.”

Hudson Valley Hub coordinators also said that the current pandemic and political moment is a testament to the urgency of the situation, and shows people why immediate action is needed. “Pandemics illuminate, like climate change, that everything is connected. When our system is challenged by something, it fails,” Gloninger said.

Having witnessed how lack of governmental action exacerbates national and global emergencies, there is hope that there is more support for government-backed policy solutions to climate change. 

Follow the Hudson Valley Hub on Instagram for upcoming information about the Earth Day teach-in and other events.

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