Policymakers along with business and nonprofit leaders are in Raleigh this week for a conference on North Carolina’s transition to clean energy. While technology and policy are key themes, some speakers want to make sure people of color and low-income residents are not left out.
The two-day State Energy Conference at N.C. State University has sessions on solar and wind power, electric vehicles and how Duke Energy and regulators are drafting plans to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
But one panel focused on the risk that current energy reforms will bring new social inequities. Climate justice activist William Barber III — the son of activist Rev. William J. Barber II — said past laws and practices make the climate crisis worse for communities of color.
“We understand that the climate crisis serves as a multiplier on the worst forms of disparity that we as a society have perfected,” said Barber, who is director of climate and environmental justice at The Climate Reality Project and founder of the Rural Beacon Initiative in Durham. “And I say ‘perfected’ because that disparity has often been the result of bad policy decisions.”
Barber said underserved communities must have input as changes are discussed and have access to the benefits of those changes — whether it’s solar power or electric vehicles. It’s about more than equality, he said
“If we treat everyone the same, but do not pay attention to that history of disparity, we actually replicate a disparity,” he said.
Barber said he’s encouraged by what he called a growing consciousness of climate and environmental justice, but it needs to be a priority.
Randy Lucas, an energy consultant who also chairs the Democracy NC board, said climate justice is tied to other inequities such as voting rights.
“When we get our democracy right and have a clean democracy to go with our clean energy, a lot of things can happen,” Lucas said.
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