As a state legislator, I make it a point to visit schools throughout my district to speak with students about government and the issues that are important to them. A few weeks ago, I was meeting with high school freshmen. When I asked them to write down an issue they care about, I was blown away to see “climate change” on many of their papers. I asked them why this issue is personal for them, and they talked about their fear for the future and the impacts of climate change they already feel in their community.
A few days earlier, I was with fourth graders. When asked what changes they’d like to see in their school, they suggested a bigger playground and more recess, but also reusable lunch trays. They were concerned about wasting resources and our impact on future generations.
For young people, climate change isn’t an issue that feels far away, sitting at the bottom of their list of priorities. It keeps them up at night. It makes their future difficult to imagine.
Our young people are right when they tell us that we don’t have any more time to lose. No matter where we live, we all feel the effects of climate change and the fossil fuel economy — especially low-income families, people of color, and our rural communities.
Right now, Wisconsinites are picking up the bill — physically and financially — for every ton of carbon we burn, while the fossil fuel industry continues to profit. Wisconsinites send over $14 billion each year out of our state to pay for the fossil fuels that power our communities. That’s money that could be kept right here in Wisconsin.
Families in my hometown of Racine, like in so many communities, also suffer long-term health effects from the coal dust transported past their homes by rail. Meanwhile, carbon-fueled climate change is accelerating extreme weather across Wisconsin, threatening our communities and our livelihoods.
We know the status quo isn’t working. But in true Wisconsin fashion, we can turn this crisis into an opportunity, and come out stronger for it.
It’s time for us to get to work on Wisconsin-centered solutions to climate change. We can lessen the effects of climate change and double down on the things that make our state great. We can invest some of the $14 billion we send to other states and build renewable energy, make our infrastructure more efficient and resilient, and create family-supporting jobs in communities like mine across our state, where racial and economic disparities remain high. If we work together, we can invest in our family farms, our children and in our urban and rural communities to build a cleaner, more sustainable and more equitable economy.
With my Democratic colleagues in the Legislature, I’m releasing a package of bills to begin addressing the effects of climate change, speed up our transition to 100% carbon-free energy and build the next economy.
With these bills, we’re supporting Wisconsin farmers, building upon our rich agricultural legacy by financially supporting our farmers to capture carbon dioxide from our air and reduce fossil fuel usage.
We’re investing in our children by supporting weatherization and energy efficiency in our public schools, cutting down school energy bills and energy usage and creating a healthier place for our children to learn.
We’re developing a Green Bank to explore public and private options to finance the transition to a cleaner and more just economy. With a Green Bank, we can target investment in the communities and economic sectors that need it most, improve our infrastructure, create good union jobs and build a more resilient economy for our children.
And we’re bringing the social cost of carbon — a measure of the full impact of burning fossil fuels on our communities — into the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s consideration process for new utility-scale energy generation facilities. This bill allows us to recognize the economic reality that renewable energy is cheaper and healthier than fossil fuels.
These bills were designed with input from people across Wisconsin to meet our priorities and invest in our future. From supporting our farmers, to building the clean-energy manufacturing sector, to investing in our kids and our schools, these bills build up our communities and bring new opportunities to Wisconsin. And they’re just the beginning.
In the coming months, the Governor’s Climate Change Task Force will begin our work, meeting with people across the state to develop more Wisconsin solutions to the climate crisis. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this issue, but together, we can build a brighter and more equitable future for Wisconsin. Let’s move forward together. Let’s move forward on climate.
State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, represents the state's 66th Assembly District.
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