In a Jan. 24 Orlando Sentinel article on Orlando‘s transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, it notes that “environmentalists rejoiced” when the City Council made this bold commitment three years ago.
As someone who helped lead the charge for this historic pledge and who was in the room that day, I want to be clear that, yes, environmental groups were key supporters. But so were dozens of civic organizations that care about public health, environmental justice, and the future vibrancy of our community.
Climate change, and the urgent need to stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible, is not only about our environment. It is also about our well-being as a community.
A warming Earth threatens our health, bringing more high ozone days that trigger heart attacks and asthma — particularly worrisome for African-Americans, who are almost three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than white Americans.
Climate change means more extreme heat — the No. 1 weather-related killer. And extreme weather like hurricanes is becoming more frequent and more severe, threatening injury, death and displacement.
Equally worrisome, University of Miami sea-level rise expert Harold Wanless predicts that Orlando could become a climate migration magnet in as little as 30 years. Orlando and other inland Florida cities will be faced with absorbing populations that must flee the coast as rising seas flood not just houses and roads but critical infrastructure like sewage treatment facilities and freshwater wells.
And while all of us will feel the impact of climate change, it is our low-income neighborhoods and communities of color that are most often hit first, worst and longest.
And unless we keep a vigilant eye on how our community transitions to renewable energy, marginalized communities also will be the last to benefit from innovations such as rooftop solar, electric vehicles and energy efficiency upgrades that can drop a high-income household’s utility bills to $0 while a poor family across town struggles to choose between paying the electric bill or buying groceries.
Fortunately, sustainability can be a win-win for public health, social justice and the environment. A 2019 report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that energy efficiency could cut national energy use in half by 2050 while reducing the energy burden on low-income families.
If we prioritize energy efficiency programs for those who need them most, we can reduce pollution, protect pocketbooks and meet our renewable energy goals.
The Orange County Branch of the NAACP is a leading member of the First 50 Coalition for a sustainable Central Florida. We join the League of Women Voters of Orange County, Sierra Club Beyond Coal, IDEAS For Us, Alianza for Progress, the Hispanic Federation and dozens of other civic groups in our commitment to a better tomorrow.
The First 50 is proud of the Orlando City Council and the Orlando Utilities Commission for leading the state on renewable energy. The transition won’t be easy, but it is essential for the future of our community as well as our planet.
Beverlye Colson Neal is the president of the Orange County branch of the NAACP.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.