Opinion: Stacey Abrams, Rewiring America And Climate Justice

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Photo: Andy Vernon-Jones

Love, Justice, And Climate Change

Russ Vernon-Jones

I admire Stacey Abrams and the way she and her colleagues registered 800,000 new voters in Georgia prior to the 2020 election, securing a win for Joe Biden, and putting Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the U.S. Senate. I’ve also had a lot of respect for Rewiring America, a non-profit formed in 2020 to “help mobilize America to address climate change and jump-start the economy by electrifying everything.” So when I read that Stacey Abrams has just joined Rewiring America as their lead counsel and will lead their outreach to individuals and communities, it really caught my attention.

 A member of the Democratic party, Abrams served in the Georgia legislature from 2007 to 2017 and was the minority leader from 2011 to 2017. In 2018 she founded Fair Fight to fight voter suppression and register voters in Georgia. She worked to bring Black voters into the political process on an on-going basis, not just seeking their votes in one election or for one candidate. She, and those who worked with her, were tremendously successful. Although she fell short in two efforts to win the governorship pf Georgia, her voting rights efforts enabled the Democratic party to win control of the U.S. Senate in 2020 and 2022 and led to all of the legislative victories of the Biden Administration.

Stacey Abrams

Rewiring America
My post about Rewiring America in September of 2020 was based primarily on a report they had just issued, “Mobilizing for a Zero-Carbon America: A Strategy for Combating Climate Change And Creating up to 25 Million American Jobs.” They had done a very detailed analysis of everything from manufacturing capacity, to job creation, to available technology, to grid modernization. They found that with the proper incentives, regulations, and policies it would be possible for the U.S. to reduce emissions by 70% – 80% by 2035, and create up to 25 million new jobs, with modest government funding. They laid out a plan calling for a rapid transition characterized by equity, financial benefits for consumers, and better public health. The key to their plan is to electrify everything and build an expanded grid based on clean renewable energy.

Since then Rewiring America has engaged with policy makers and government officials to help craft many of the provisions that ended up in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) climate bill–creating many of the financial incentives that will make the biggest difference in creating a far greener economy. Now they are working with communities and consumers to help them take advantage of all of those incentives that lead to electrification. Electrification can mean changing your heating and cooling system to heat pumps instead of a fossil fuel furnace. It can mean getting a heat pump hot water system or an electric vehicle. It could simply mean that whenever any appliance needs replacing, you replace it with an electric one.

Stacey Abrams
Stacey Abrams has been a politician, a lawyer, an organizer, a successful author of fiction and non-fiction. The story behind her and Rewiring America joining forces and what they are planning illuminates some of the many connections between racial justice and climate change.

It turns out that Abrams grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi, only an hour away from Cancer Alley, the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Over 200 plants and refineries there emit noxious chemicals, many of them cancer-causing. About a quarter of all U.S. petrochemical production occurs in this small area, with devastating effects on the residents, most of whom are black or brown. Abrams wrote her college thesis on the environmental injustice of the region. Before getting into the Georgia legislature, she was an intern in the office of Environmental Justice in the Clinton Administration.

Having Better Lives Through Electrification
Now she’s committed to helping communities learn and apply the benefits of electrification because electrification helps with economic security, health, and climate. Especially with the incentives provided in the IRA, the average family can save $1,800 a year with an electric home and electric vehicle and have better health as well. The key equity issue is making these benefits available to everyone, not just a few.

Abrams writes, “On the micro and macro scales, energy policy is about how we invest in ourselves. … This is about the planet, yes, but fundamentally, the question is how do we get to live our best lives. In the energy sector, we don’t need a miracle technology to lower the cost of heating and cooling our homes or to power our cars. We aren’t waiting for a transformational inventor who can reduce our carbon footprint and help our children breathe easier indoors and out. We can live more economically secure, more resilient, healthier lives right now.”

Calculator
Abrams also notes that Rewiring America has a calculator that 400,000 people have used to find out what incentives and rebates they qualify for to electrify their homes and their lives. Now, with her leadership, they want to reach more people and help them with solutions that will be good for their lives and for the planet all at the same time. You may want to check out that calculator yourself and see what’s possible for you.

Electrify Everything
My impression is that the Rewiring America folks started with the question of how do we reduce emissions in the face of the climate crisis. After detailed analysis, their answer is “electrify everything.” Stacey Abrams seems to have started with the question of how do we give people of the global majority (aka people of color) and low income families and communities better lives and a sense of their own power to get what they need. Now a key element of her answer is “electrify everything.”

Including communities who need the help the most
Abrams writes, “I grew up on the Gulf Coast and that was an area that was assailed with environmental challenges because of petrochemicals. Low-income communities, communities of color were divorced from political power and they were divorced from economic opportunity. There will be billions of dollars poured into our economy for good reasons to do good things. What keeps me awake at night is that the communities who need the help the most and who could benefit the most from this economic opportunity get left out. That’s why I am here [at Rewiring America].”

This new alliance between Stacey Abrams and Rewiring America seems very hopeful. If what’s needed for people to have better, more equitable, more affordable, healthier lives. and what’s needed to address the climate crisis come together and access the billions of dollars now available through the Inflation Reduction Act, the potential for transformative change is tremendous.

Russ Vernon-Jones was principal of Fort River School 1990-2008 and is currently a member of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now-Western Massachusetts. He blogs regularly on climate justice at www.russvernonjones.org.

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