Guest Op-Ed: Let’s Save Our World in 2020

By Senator Ed Markey and Roxana Rivera

On December 6—as Greta Thunberg joined a 500,000-person march in Madrid—students around the world held their second climate strike of the year. They walked out of their middle schools, high schools, and colleges, demanding their right to a livable future. Right here in the Commonwealth, they flooded the State House demanding Massachusetts lawmakers take real action on climate solutions before it’s too late.

 These climate strikes defined 2019, a year we built undeniable and powerful momentum for a Green New Deal. This resolution was introduced with the future of our young people in mind—a future that must include access to clean air and water; a strong economy built on good, union careers in clean energy industries; improvements in transportation and infrastructure; and attention to the black, brown, poor, and immigrant communities most harmed by the climate crisis. As one of the authors of the Green New Deal, and as the local leader of 32BJ SEIU—a majority-immigrant union that was among the first to come out in support of this resolution with our late president Hector Figueroa’s December 2018 Op-Ed—we find it inspiring to see these young people fighting for their lives.

More Bay State residents than ever are demanding real solutions to the interconnected crises of climate change and income inequality. The two of us were proud to team up earlier this year with environmentalists, scientists, and community leaders to hold Green New Deal town halls across Massachusetts, discussing the goals of the resolution on a local level. When everyone has a seat at the table where energy and economic policy is created, we can make real, lasting change.  

We know there are solutions to rising income inequality, the decline of unions, and the destruction of the earth, but the rich and powerful are standing in our way. We are faced with a president who rules on fear and who still believes climate change is a hoax, even as climate change-fueled wildfires ravage the entire Australian continent. 

As we enter into a new decade, the need for comprehensive climate solutions has never been more pressing. We must create clean energy careers and reaffirm our commitment to reducing carbon emissions. We must help and support the communities dependent on fossil fuel with health care and strong, union jobs in the growing green economy. We must take back our government with elected leaders who believe in science, justice, and equality.

That means putting the needs of our impacted communities front and center in this movement. The black, brown, poor, and immigrant people facing income inequality and racist attacks—among them 32BJ SEIU’s cleaners, security officers, and airport workers with Temporary Protected Status (TPS)—are also the ones bearing some of the worst burdens of climate change. They reside in communities like East Boston, Lawrence, and Roxbury, areas with high rates of asthma and other environmentally related health problems. Climate change does affect all of us, but it’s hitting marginalized communities harder.

It is because of our hard-working immigrants that we need to not only fight back against President Trump’s inhumane, cruel, and racist immigration policies, we also need to pass legislation that would address displacement through risk reduction, resiliency building, disaster response and recovery, and more. Already, there are thousands of TPS holders in the U.S. who were displaced by devastating natural disasters. Instead of kicking them out of this country, like President Trump is determined to do, we need to be opening our doors to more climate refugees and fighting our climate crisis at home and abroad.

The news around climate is frightening and can be discouraging. It’s hard to avoid feeling helpless. But we are entering 2020 with hope built on the fighting spirit of countless young people around the world and a new generation of climate activists. As Héctor Figueroa, the late labor leader and president of 32BJ SEIU, wrote: “This is an opportunity to re-industrialize America with a green economy, with jobs that, with the right training, can provide career ladders for many low-wage workers who struggle to afford the high cost of living.”

We can save our world. We can build a movement for climate action to protect our future. But we must start listening to our youth. 

Edward Markey is the United States Senator from Massachusetts and  Roxana Rivera is Vice President of 32BJ SEIU.

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