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Racial Injustice, COVID-19, and Climate Change – Three Strands of a Braid

A statement from Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. and CNEE

In 2011, I founded the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University.  My hope was that I might use my experience as the Governor of Colorado to work with Governors, with state legislators, with utilities, with utility commissions, and with other stakeholders on state-level clean energy policy.  At the time of the Center’s founding, the word “New” in the Center’s name referred to the fact that the clean energy transition happening in America was at its early stages.  Some states were executing the transition, but for many others, the thought of a clean energy transition was, at best, novel.  Nine years later, much progress has been made in the work we do, and it is evident in a variety of ways – the broad adoption of clean energy policies, the market forces that support clean energy, and the fact that utilities, once the biggest skeptics of clean energy, are now close to fully embracing it.

With that said, it may seem that our work is no longer “new.” We are, however, not changing the Center’s name.  Here is why.

My team and I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic recession (depression?), patterns of racial injustice, and the persistent and real dangers presented by climate change, can all be lenses through which we view our work as we in America re-build our economy generally and our energy economy specifically.  Climate Change is real, it is imminent, and we are losing precious time in combatting it.  If we fail to mitigate its impacts, poor people in America, including many from communities of color, will experience the impacts of climate change first and worst.  As COVID-19 ravaged communities across America, the numbers, particularly the fatalities, told the story of a significantly disproportionate impact on people of color.  In some communities, that disproportion was mind-boggling.  The evil stepbrothers of COVID-19 – the economic recession and the growing unemployment rate – are hitting all parts of our economy, but, once again, communities of color are hit harder than are white communities.

With a climate crisis and the COVID-19 crisis, a cauldron of fear, anxiety, and unrest was bubbling over.  Then, a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd. Protests in the streets of cities across America made manifest the pervasive nature of racism and injustice in forms both blatant and pernicious.

Our pledge at the Center for the New Energy Economy is that, as we participate in the hard work of rebuilding America’s energy economy, we do so with the lens of racial equity and racial justice at the forefront of our consciousness.   Think of this as the strands of a braid – a racial justice strand, an economic justice strand, and an environmental justice strand.  All of the work we do to pursue the clean energy transition will be with our team asking, what is right, what is just?  We will tie our work to an equitable economic recovery. Our consciousness will, on a constant basis, grapple with the real and persistent issues of race, of diversity, and of inclusion.  It may seem like an unlikely path for an energy policy think tank, but my team and I believe it is the ONLY path – the only mindset for rebuilding a new and better America.

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