Ben Jealous is executive director of the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. He is a professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Never Forget Our People Were Always Free,” published in January. (Courtesy Photo)

By Ben Jealous,
Special to the AFRO

Recently, I traveled from Baltimore, the city where my mother grew up, to Portland, Maine, where my dad did. It’s easy for many to see differences between one of the Blackest cities in America and the largest city in one of America’s whitest states.

What always hits me is that suffering is what unites the two places. They’ve felt the consequences of the American industry’s decline in my 50 years of life. 

My father’s family once operated woolen mills in New England. Those factories no longer exist across America. Nearly 63,000 factories have shuttered since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed three decades ago. 

As a result, millions of American families have been trapped in a downward spiral of economic mobility for too long driven by the greed of multinational corporations and facilitated over decades by government policies like NAFTA. 

In part of the pandemic and the narrow window that’s left before our climate is beyond repair, we’re at a moment where we can turn that around. Over the last three years, we committed as a nation to an unprecedented private and public investment in clean energy and infrastructure in ways that promise to halt this dream-killing trajectory. 

We’re in a moment when we can finally shift back to an economy defined by working people that make things they can be proud like electric school buses or solar panels.

You’d think that opportunity would be welcomed by all. But the self-interested big oil and gas companies that are grabbing billions in historic profits. The politicians they support are doing all they can to roll back the commitments to climate change made since 2021. They even tied up the recent debate over a U.S. default on its loans to advance their opposition.

That’s an odd political play. A CBS News poll last month found more than half of Americans want the climate crisis addressed right now and more than two-thirds want it tackled within a few years. 

That includes 44 percent of Republicans. Given every congressional Republican voted against the clean energy package last year, that large plurality is significant. It’s also a sign that many GOP leaders in Washington are increasingly out of step with their own constituents and districts. 

When the group Climate Power looked at the nearly 200 clean energy projects launched since Congress and the President approved the federal spending package last summer, nearly six in 10 of the projects are in districts represented by Republicans who voted against the package. Those could create nearly 77,000 new jobs for electricians, mechanics, technicians, support staff, and others. 

While we’ve disagreed more than once, President Biden has effectively championed the biggest American manufacturing investments that most Americans have seen in our lifetimes as part of his drive to ensure America leads the world in fighting climate change. 

Simply put, President Biden has been the most courageous leader we’ve ever had when it comes to fighting climate change and rebuilding the American industry at the same time. That’s why the Sierra Club and our environmental movement allies have endorsed President Biden’s re-election.

We have not seen this kind of national investment since the days of FDR. Back then, building American industry was vital to winning a war against genocide across Europe in World War II. Today, our investments to turn our economy away from destruction and toward good jobs in a cleaner economy that sustains our planet is a fight to protect all of humanity.

Ben Jealous is executive director of the Sierra Club, the oldest and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the country. He is a professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Never Forget Our People Were Always Free,” published in January.