Opinion: Climate Solutions Now Act Must Deliver on Climate Justice

My name is Maisha and I support the Climate Solutions Now Act in the Maryland General Assembly because it is important for young people like me with lung conditions. Unfortunately, last week it was gutted in the Environment and Transportation Committee, under the leadership of Del. Kumar Barve, a Democrat from Montgomery County.

The General Assembly must pass the strong Senate version of Climate Solutions Now and strengthen environmental justice and energy democracy provisions. Weakening Climate Solutions Now could mean I live a shorter life. 

I was born with a lung condition called primary ciliary dyskinesia, which fills my lungs with mucus, making breathing difficult. My lung condition gets worse when the air is polluted. Pollution that worsens air quality often comes from the same sources causing climate change, which also will worsen air quality. The weakening amendments are terrible for thousands of Marylanders who suffer from lung conditions like mine. 

A few years ago, going on walks with friends outside was one of my favorite activities. Unfortunately, I can’t continue walking outside during the summer because of the air quality. The dust and smoke in my neighborhood harms my health. I’ve caught pneumonia multiple times, damaging my lungs even more. I spent nights with high fever and cough, chugging medicine. Those days were difficult and they’re going to worsen unless we win climate justice. 

The stronger version of the bill would require Maryland to reduce emissions by 60% by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2045. Representatives decreased these goals from 60% to 50%. We must be bold and decrease emissions close to 100% by 2030. 

In the Sunrise Movement, we support the Green New Deal — sweeping government intervention to fight climate, prioritizing black and brown communities, working people, and the vulnerable. Climate Solutions Now should provide relief to people like me. Without legislation radically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, people like me will be stuck inside, suffering.

Last week’s changes aren’t only a disaster for people with lung conditions. Legislators removed building efficiency and net zero school goals that must remain in place to fight climate change. Environmental justice aspects of the bill must be improved too.

Legislators must strengthen the equity screen and remedy environmental injustices. A serious bill would have ended subsidies for toxic trash incineration in Black and Brown communities and support zero waste jobs the community supports. I feel for other young people with lung problems breathing in that pollution and stand ready to rally alongside activists from those communities.

The bill’s environmental justice and labor transition workgroups move in the right direction, but youth are excluded. We have the most stake in the crisis. 

Youth deserve a seat at the table — direct and formal representation on each work group in Climate Solutions Now, including the EJ, solar siting, and just transition workgroups. We’ve advocated for energy democracy while supporting local Green New Deal policies in Montgomery County.

We endorsed the Community Choice Energy bill so governments could buy renewable energy for residents cheaper. We want real energy democracy. It is unlikely that justice will be delivered without youth voices at the table.

One amendment moves in the wrong direction on a critical part of energy democracy: where we build community solar. Montgomery County just faced this issue.  

We advocated for following solar siting best practices promoted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation: prioritizing impervious surfaces and degraded or marginal lands for solar, while preserving fertile soil for farming. We also wanted to ensure renting farmers aren’t priced off their farms. Solar should be expanded as rapidly as possible without displacing renters or sacrificing ecology. We won that fight and demanded a solar siting study.  

Delegate Barve, from Montgomery County, added a solar siting study amendment to the bill — but it’s biased against our concerns. He openly suggests his study is intended to sidestep solar best practices and our equity concerns. The only environmental group offered a seat on the study group ignored these concerns, too. This is another reason we demand youth representation. Barve supports climate action — we need climate justice and energy democracy, so people like me can have a livable future. 

I know others with severe lung conditions are trying their best to stay home so they don’t get sick from the air they breathe. Our representatives must do better for Marylanders, especially those with health conditions. 

In the richest country in the world, we should take care of the most vulnerable. A strong Climate Solutions Now Act is the bare minimum. Legislators must guarantee the right to clean air, water, and a stable climate as a human right.


The writers are leaders with Sunrise Movement Baltimore and Sunrise Movement Maryland.