On Friday, hundreds of thousands of young people are striking worldwide, walking out of school to demand our governments act on global warming — the most serious threat our generation will ever face. As the policy coordinator of Sunrise Claremont Colleges, I will be among them, at the Youth Climate Strike in Downtown Los Angeles.
Sunrise Claremont Colleges is a hub of the Sunrise Movement, a national youth-led climate justice movement that has been the leading proponent of the Green New Deal. Introduced in Congress in February, this resolution calls for a 10-year nationwide mobilization to fight climate change by decarbonizing the U.S. economy, and (in the style of the original New Deal) hopes to use this as an opportunity to counter wage stagnation and bring back middle-class blue collar jobs.
But, as the Claremont Colleges turn their attention to our fellow students around the world, work is being done toward a Green New Deal right in our own community. And it reveals the keystone of successful climate action: the local community itself.
Last summer, I volunteered with a Claremont environmental nonprofit called Claremont-Pomona Locally Grown Power, whom I learned about when I covered them for TSL. Founded by Devon Hartman PZ ’77, LGP hopes to build a solar panel assembly factory in nearby Pomona, the first in the world run by a nonprofit.
The factory would create well-paying jobs (with employees starting at $15 an hour) in Pomona, where over 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Because LGP has exclusive access to a patented technology that makes panels more efficient, panels could be installed on local homes for free or at a greatly reduced cost, with a goal of installing panels on 6,000 homes in the first two years.
Working with LGP convinced me that, if the Green New Deal is to win and retain public support, it has to highlight the benefits it can bring to local communities. Equally importantly, Green New Deal proponents must forge connections with local communities, making the latter feel like they are part of the solution as much as possible.
This may seem intuitive, but isn’t always done in practice. By framing the Green New Deal as a grand effort to right the country’s socioeconomic wrongs, Green New Deal proponents can overemphasize this macrocosmic vision, and inadequately explain how benefits will spread from the national level to the community level.
What most Americans are really interested in, however, is how the Green New Deal can improve their daily lives. People are naturally risk-averse, and hesitant (as they should be!) to embrace change if they don’t see what’s in it for them.
If Green New Deal proponents don’t make the benefits clear, we risk fostering an atmosphere of uncertainty and detachment, which opponents of climate action can exploit to spread misinformation — namely the suggestion that the Green New Deal is an elitist aspiration that would help the already wealthy and leave low-income communities behind. LGP shows how this can be averted.
To the extent that LGP has an ideology, it’s the conviction that climate change will be mitigated through a “trickle-up” model of change in small communities coalescing into a nationwide transformation. Because of this, LGP has conducted extensive research into the effects the factory would have on Pomona (some of which was done by 5C student volunteers).
As stated on LGP’s website, the Pomona factory would create over 700 direct and indirect jobs in the first two and a half years. The first 6,000 low- and middle-income households that have solar panels installed would save a combined $6.5 million a year in lower energy costs. Due to higher personal spending from low- and middle-income households, the local economy would grow by over $29 million annually.
In my entire time at LGP, these statistics were always what LGP emphasized as the core of its message. The mission wasn’t right because protecting the climate is the correct policy, or even because bringing back middle-class manufacturing jobs is the correct policy or for any other purpose that opponents might call political or ideological — the mission was right because helping people in your community is the right thing to do, in and of itself.
LGP’s convictions translated to emphasis on engaging with the Claremont and Pomona communities. Naturally, if LGP’s solar panel installation goals are to be successful, they will need to earn the trust of 6,000 households, and LGP is convinced this will be done through the support of various actors in Pomona — as Hartman once described it to me, “making a thousand new friends.”
The Green New Deal resolution points out that, while “the New Deal created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen,” many Americans “were excluded from many of the economic and societal benefits of those mobilizations.” Green New Deal supporters must commit to doing better this time, or risk ceding the debate to our opponents, thus losing our most likely last chance of protecting future generations from the worst of climate change.
Ben Reicher PO ’22 is from Agoura Hills, California. He joined his high school newspaper in ninth grade because he loved to argue and hasn’t stopped since.