2023 is our time to save the Earth with a green economy

As we welcome 2023, I feel more than typical seasonal optimism. America is poised once again for a historic achievement, call it our “Earth Shot.”

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the United States spent the current dollar equivalent of just under $300 billion to “land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth. as President John F. Kennedy proposed in 1961. Since then, this combination of aspiration and spending has made us call any well-funded goal that seems improbable, if not impossible, a “moonshot.”

President Joe Biden and Congress have committed nearly $700 billion over the next 10 years to reduce pollution, especially in marginalized communities most likely to suffer, and to make the transportation and energy sectors cleaner in order to preserve the climate.

We must appreciate the investment to save our fragile planet made in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act as our Earth shot.

This is a moment of unprecedented opportunity to tackle the climate crisis, mitigate the impact of environmental degradation in communities that unfairly bear the brunt of it, and build a cleaner economy. We must unite to seize it. It’s a moment eagerly awaited by people of color in particular, who have always been strong voices for environmental protection and who have been the most demanding political leaders on these issues at the ballot box.

What is behind this optimistic vision? First, the historic investment since 2021 takes us beyond simply imagining what could be done to give us the tools to build what it will take to avert climate catastrophe and environmental degradation.

It is now up to us to take these tools and get to work. We can accelerate the advent of a green economy. We can rebuild our manufacturing sector, not just our roads and bridges. We can create good jobs for people who need them and who are struggling to find them. And we can do it all at once. In fact, you have to do it all at once.

Second, this historic investment comes at a particularly opportune time to change the course of our climate and our environment. This is a time when innovation matches our drive to make change. From batteries to LED lights to power generation, we have better, cleaner options across the economy.

This intersection of investment and innovation means we can move past the old thinking that has held us back for too long, the misguided notion that the only way to have a thriving economy is to force some people in some places to pay the cost of prosperity. The new reality of this time is that we can have successful businesses and good jobs without sacrificing the planet. Going to the moon has led to everything from the silicon chip to more science and engineering doctorates. Our ground stroke can have the same overflow effect.

While the federal government has laid the groundwork for unprecedented progress, implementation work will take place in every state and community. No corporate lobbyist has fought to keep the Apollo rockets grounded, but we can expect fights everywhere to divert investment to a cleaner environment or to minimize its impact. We must match these opponents in state houses and town halls with our people power. Environmental, labor and civil rights advocates must come together as all of our interests align in this cause.

As we close this holiday season, let’s give ourselves the gift of faith. Believe we can do it, we can save the planet. Believe that we can meet difficult challenges that our inspiration has not yet solved. And believe we can move beyond old patterns of harmful division and discrimination to ensure everyone enjoys a livable planet.

Good year.

Ben Jealous is the new executive director of the Sierra Club and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and editorials. See our guidelines.

Leave a Comment