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By Ben Jealous —

Independence Day at its best is a call to action to leave our children an America as good as its promise.

This time of year makes me think about my family’s journey in this country. My father’s family is white. He descends from the youngest combatant at the Battle of Lexington and Concord. My mother’s family is Black. She descends from two Black Virginia statesmen who helped to rebuild the Commonwealth after the Civil War. One of them descended from Thomas Jefferson’s grandmother.

Today, both families, like many Americans, live at or near some version of the same address. It is that place where there used to be factories and when they shut down, what shot up was poverty, despair, suicide, and opiate addiction. And as if all that were not enough to deal with, it keeps getting hotter. The floods come more often. The super storms do as well.

If there is a silver lining in all this struggle, it is this: There is one solution that can tackle all these problems, and that is throwing everything we’ve got at stopping the climate crisis. If we do that, we will turn around the economy, our neighbors’ lives, and the fate of the planet itself.

The next five years will define who leads the world economy, us or China. Our leadership in innovation and design allowed us to take an early lead in the areas of electric vehicles (EVs) and other green technologies. But China leads in manufacturing. Today they dominate solar panel production and have overtaken the US on EVs as well. Still, we have not given up the fight, despite calls from Fox News and others for us to do just that.

Georgia is home to the largest solar panel production facility in the Western Hemisphere. The same company that owns that plant, Qcells, is about to open another one in Georgia that will be the only plant outside of China producing every component of the panel, from ingot to finished product.

Tennessee, North Carolina, and other southern states have a battery belt. EVs are rolling off the assembly lines in Detroit and elsewhere. Illinois has very recently become home to a boom in production of both EVs and EV components. In short, because of the green economy America has helped the world give birth to, and the investments in manufacturing and infrastructure made under President Biden, we are opening new factories with increasing frequency and beginning to see the signs of an economy that will lift all boats again. This means thousands upon thousands of good jobs coast to coast. It has been revolutionary in places like Dalton, GA, the location of Qcells’ existing Georgia plant. There, a wall is decorated with the artwork of employees’ children showing their parents as heroes saving the planet.

The other part of the equation to save the planet requires us to protect and rebuild our forests. Expanding wild areas and protecting nature brings more jobs to rural America and helps preserve ancient ways of hunting, fishing, and connecting with the natural world.

The benefits of protecting and planting more trees are not just for rural areas. Restoring our urban tree canopies is one of the most effective things we can do to combat the urban heat crisis in cities across the country. Recently I have been out visiting cities around the country, from Phoenix, Arizona to Lansing, Michigan, with US Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Homer Wilkes promoting the administration’s $1.5 billion tree planting initiative.

Every new tree casts shade and its shade makes the temperature feel 10-15 degrees cooler than it does in the sun. That encourages people to get outdoors. More people outside and on the street means communities are better protected, safer, and more connected. Andb better connected communities are more content and, due to reduced social isolation among its members, experience less suicide.

The pursuit of America’s promise is an ongoing journey. Although we may feel separate from each other at times, we walk this road together. And we will all rise or fall together. On America’s birthday, let us choose to rise by meeting the challenge of the climate crisis and making the world a better place for everyone along the way.

Ben Jealous is the Executive Director of the Sierra Club and a Professor of Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.


IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.