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Kathy Castor: Climate crisis presents challenges but also opportunities

Jaymi Butler

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U.S. Representative Kathy Castor talks about the climate crisis and economic opportunities at a Friday webinar hosted by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College.

The U.S. is dealing with an ongoing and worsening climate crisis, and if there is hope for reversing course, the country must act with urgency. 

That was the key takeaway from a virtual discussion with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor hosted by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College.

“The concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are at the highest level ever,” she said. “2020 was the hottest year on record and as the earth heats up, all of the climate related impacts like extreme storms, droughts, flooding, wildfires – they’re worsening and heaping costs on working families, on small businesses and on our communities.”

The communities that are most vulnerable to the myriad negative impacts of the climate crisis are communities of color and those with lower income populations. That’s why it’s so critical to reduce carbon pollution, and Castor noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a group of scientists from across the globe – has set a goal of getting to net zero greenhouse gas carbon emissions no later than 2050. 

“Here we are at the start of 2021. We don’t have time to wait until 2045,” said Castor, who is serving as chair of the House Select Committee of the Climate Crisis. “Most of the very significant actions have to start now.”

The good news, however, is that confronting the climate crisis also presents “enormous opportunities” to create high-paying jobs while improving health outcomes and preserving the planet for future generations. Castor pointed out that after the Great Recession, when President Barack Obama was in office, legislators passed the Recovery Act, leading to significant investments in creating jobs that increased energy efficiency. Now, with more technological advances, Castor predicts even more job opportunities in areas like manufacturing and installing energy efficient lights, smart meters, solar panels and charging stations for electric cars.

Additionally, Castor was encouraged by President Joe Biden’s announcement earlier this week regarding the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps – a program that will provide employment for people working in fields aimed at fighting climate change.

“That could attract people, especially folks in the younger generation who are inspired to help their neighbors and lift the planet,” Castor said. “They can go to work on an initiative to help make our communities more resilient, and I think that that holds great promise.”

One thing that frustrates Castor is that Florida is far behind in terms of utilizing clean energy sources like solar and wind, and she said decarbonizing the way we generate electricity is key to helping protect the environment. She also noted that contrary to what many people believe, solar and wind power don’t come with a higher pricetag than traditional energy sources. 

“We cannot afford to keep doing what we’re doing,” Castor said. “Look at these longer, hotter summers that we’re having. That means we’re paying more on your air conditioning bill especially around here. It means we’re paying more on flood insurance. We’re paying more on property insurance because we’re having these record-setting seasons on very intense hurricanes that spin up quickly, or tropical storms or day-to-day flooding. We’re spending more on our property taxes and stormwater fees.”

Castor attributes the “enormous political power” of the electric utility companies in the state and said the incentives here are on building new plants, which she called “wrong” and said needs to be remedied as soon as possible. 

However, looking ahead to the future with Biden at the helm, Castor has a positive outlook on the U.S.’s role in flipping the switch on the climate crisis. 

“We won’t be able to meet that 2050 net zero goal or ensure equity across the world unless the United States of America is in the lead,” Castor said. “We are the world leader. We have to reclaim that mantle.”

 

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