By Kiah Hopkins
Recent flooding in Atlanta upended daily life for college students like me. I’m a sophomore at Spelman College, where we had to trek through several inches of water to get to class. At Clark Atlanta University, the flooding displaced two dozen students.
I watched video after video of Clark students who needed to be pulled out of flooded cars. Some of these students ended up losing their cars. Others got injured and had to go to the emergency room.
This is just the latest example of how climate change is manifesting in the form of extreme weather events, jeopardizing all of our health and well-being. If we don’t do more to address it, the climate crisis is going to continue to get worse.
I’m grateful for the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to clean energy and to tackling topics that are top of mind for young people. Yesterday, I got to attend Vice President Harris’s address at Morehouse as part of the “Fight for Our Freedoms” college tour, which is focused on the climate crisis and other issues I’m passionate about, from gun violence to voting rights to reproductive freedom.
Talk needs to be backed up by action, and so far I’ve been encouraged by the actions that the Biden-Harris administration has taken on climate change and clean energy. The Inflation Reduction Act signed into law last year is the most consequential climate legislation in American history. It’s already created 170,000 jobs, most of which are in communities of color.
Just last week, the administration announced the creation of the American Climate Corps, which will create jobs for 20,000 young people in fields related to clean energy, conservation, and climate resilience. This is a huge step towards including young people like me and my classmates who are interested in pursuing work that helps fight climate change but don’t know where to start.
I’m majoring in political science, and climate change rarely comes up in my classes. Students on campus sometimes talk about how they’re worried they can’t find good-paying jobs that will also help curb climate change. The American Climate Corps includes training and service opportunities that fill this niche, helping to mobilize my generation around an issue that’s top of mind for us.
The American Climate Corps is also designed to be inclusive and diverse. For too long, communities of color have been left out of the climate conversation, even as they’re disproportionately affected by extreme weather events. We need to center environmental justice in the transition to clean energy, and diverse training and apprenticeship programs are critical to doing that.
When flooding caused the water system to fail in Jackson, Mississippi, numerous members of my family were forced to live without clean water for months on end. It makes me angry that over a year later, Jackson’s Black residents still don’t have the same access to clean, safe water that so many other Americans take as a given.
News recently came out that 11 out of 52 water systems in Georgia have toxic “forever chemicals” in their drinking water. Once again, I felt frustrated and upset. We all deserve clean water and air, no matter our race or our zip code.
I’m advocating for more transparency from our state and federal government on the steps they’re taking to secure environmental justice. I appreciate Spelman for taking steps to ensure students’ health and safety by placing filter systems on some of the water fountains on campus, but for me, environmental justice means not having to worry about whether the water on-campus is clean and safe to drink in the first place.
My passion for environmental justice is a big reason why I’m appreciative of the administration’s Justice40 initiative, which directs 40% of federal clean energy benefits to communities overburdened by pollution. Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta all fall within tracts of Fulton County that qualify for this program. Our campuses and communities deserve clean water, good-paying jobs, and protection from dangerous floods. Making this a reality will require doing everything we can to ensure that climate doesn’t get put on the backburner.
Initiatives like the American Climate Corps will make it easier for me and my classmates to go into clean energy and conservation jobs and be part of this change. I’m grateful for this investment by the Biden-Harris administration, and excited to be part of a generation that’s building a healthier, safer future for our planet.
Originally from Houston, TX, Kiah Hopkins is a sophomore Spelman College student studying political science.