Thanks to you, we have held 12 Congressional briefings so far this year. For example, we teamed up with the NAACP, the National Congress of American Indians, Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and others to hold a briefing on the disproportionate impact of climate change on communities of color and tribal nations. Our diverse group of speakers addressed the standing-room-only crowd, discussing challenges and opportunities associated with climate change for these two groups across the country.
Speakers explained how climate change hits these communities hard, affecting both their quality and way of life. Both groups are vulnerable to air pollution; communities of color are often in crowded urban areas, while tribal nations can be exposed to air and water pollution from nearby coal plants. Those living in dense urban areas are often unable to escape the impacts of extreme weather events, which are occurring at an increased frequency. Droughts and wildfires can challenge tribal nations’ livelihoods by devastating their crops and lands and affecting their cultural traditions.
While these communities face tremendous challenges, there is also opportunity for sustainable economic development, in part because they have some of the largest solar resources. Speakers stressed the need to take advantage of these resources to spur local job creation and improve environmental quality. Wisconsin’s Forest County Potawatomi Community, a Native American tribe, did just that by installing solar panels. They are also building an anaerobic digester and biogas generation plant, which will convert biodegradable waste, such as food processing byproducts, to usable energy.
Another briefing you helped make possible centered on Americans’ perceptions of climate change. Stanford University Professor Jon Krosnick discussed results from public opinion polls administered annually since 1997. Results from his surveys have been consistent, with the most recent poll showing that 78% of Americans believe that global warming is happening. Despite these opinions held by the vast majority of the country, Americans tend to think many others don’t believe that climate change is real – errantly thinking that just over half of Americans (56%) believe that our actions are affecting the global climate. Looking at the data by state, he found that even in states with the most skeptics, 65% of respondents believe that global warming is real. Dr. Krosnick noted that it is likely that legislators also similarly believe that there is a closer split between climate change believers and skeptics than really exists.
One of the impacts of global climate change is an increase in extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and droughts. All of these can cause power outages, human hardship and economic losses. With this in mind, we held a briefing discussing how energy efficient infrastructure can make the local energy supply reliable and resilient, keeping communities safe from electric and economic losses during severe weather events. Our speakers discussed three technologies (district energy, combined heat and power plants, and microgrids) that complement one another, reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, and increase community resilience. For example, microgrids are small-scale versions of the centralized electricity system that can operate in conjunction with the main power grid or independently. During and after Superstorm Sandy, power generated from a combined heat and power plant operating on a microgrid stayed on in New York’s Co-op in the Bronx. Princeton University’s district energy/combined heat and power facility kept the university operating. This created a safe haven for students and the community and protected more than $200 million in research that would have been lost had the university‘s power gone out.
These Congressional briefings you helped make possible have been an effective way to advance the conversation about these important issues; the dialogue often continues long after the initial forum. Congressional offices continue to ask us to help with bills and to hold additional briefings. Our dedicated team makes an effort to meet with offices before and after the briefings as well. Many people – including speakers – make new valuable contacts as a result. This is a wonderful part of how you are helping to connect people, information, and ideas to move better policy solutions forward.
You are enabling us to showcase energy and climate issues to help our country’s policymakers make better decisions that will transition our economy to one based on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels will have a multitude of positive impacts, including slowing climate change, reducing dependence on foreign oil, creating new jobs, and improving health. Thank you for being a valuable part of these efforts-- we could not do this work without you!
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Executive Director, EESI