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The clock on Climate Change is not ticking—it's banging

By Vice-President Kamala Harris

Every day, all across our nation, we feel and see the impact of the climate crisis. If you watch the morning news, it will be the lead story. And we have seen, around our country, where communities have been choked by drought, have been washed out by floods, and decimated by hurricanes. Here in Baltimore, you have seen your skies darkened by wildfire smoke. And you have seen the waters of the Chesapeake Bay rise, threatening homes and businesses that have stood for generations.

It is clear that the clock is not only ticking, it is banging. And we must act.

As Vice President, I’ve traveled across our nation to speak with thousands of Americans about this crisis. I have met with students and entrepreneurs, small-business owners, community leaders, nonprofit leaders, labor leaders—folks with new approaches to reduce our emissions and accelerate our clean energy transition, but folks who often do not have access to the funds they need to make their ideas a reality. And that is a problem.

For years, one of the missing pieces in our strategy to fight the climate crisis is that we have not invested at scale in community climate action. For years, the people of the community—folks who know what their neighborhood needs and how to provide it—have not been given adequate resources to implement climate solutions that match the magnitude of the crisis we face.

Today, I am proud to announce the largest investment in financing for community-based climate projects in our nation’s history. It’s a good day.

And one of the reasons that it is so significant is because, frankly, we’ve got to make up for lost time. So, by dramatically accelerating our work, we know we can lower emissions.

And we will do that by providing $20 billion to a national network of nonprofits, community lenders, and other financial institutions to fund tens of thousands of climate and clean energy projects across America.

So, here is what that will mean: For example, the construction companies that build affordable housing here in Baltimore that, because of this investment, will now have the capital they need to install energy-efficient appliances in new units, to lower energy use, and to help tenants save on their electric bills.

Imagine, for example, the small-business owner who will now be able to receive zero-interest loans to electrify their fleet of delivery vehicles so we can reduce pollution and save on gas.

Imagine, for example, the house of worship that will now be able to have access to loan guarantees so they can install solar panels on the roof of their building—to generate affordable clean electricity for the entire neighborhood.

When President Biden and I took office, we set an ambitious goal, to cut our greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The investment we are announcing today will help us to achieve these goals, and it will do so much more—think also about the impact on not only the local economy, not only on an investment in the entrepreneurs and innovators from and in the community. Think about the impact on something like public health.

When we invest in clean energy and electric vehicles and reduce pollution, more of our children can breathe clean air and drink clean water. 

Think of the impact on family budgets. When we help folks upgrade their heating and cooling systems, we lower the cost of electricity, which means lower energy bills for working parents so they have more money for groceries and home repairs and school supplies.

And think of all the jobs that these investments will create, including many good-paying union jobs. Jobs, for example, for the workers of IBEW who will install energy-efficient lighting. Jobs for the sheet metal workers who will replace gas furnaces with electric heat pumps. Jobs for the laborers who will build net-zero housing.

So, understand, when the President and I invest in climate, we intend to invest in jobs, invest in families, and invest in America.

I’d like to close with this. This past summer, I met with a group of young climate activists in Colorado—it was a group of high-schoolers who organized thousands of students. And they made Denver Public Schools one of the first school districts in our nation to adopt a climate action plan.

These young leaders were phenomenal. And they were bold, and they were not listening to “no.” They weren’t sitting around waiting for somebody else to get it done. They led, understanding the profound challenges that we face.

And yet, I will tell you about them: They had incredible hope and optimism and joy about what is possible and the work that is being done. And I do believe it’s because they, like we, know that we have time to make a difference—but we’ve got to get on with it.

And so, let us share their hope and recognize that when we work together, when we invest in our communities, when we take action, we will meet this moment and build a better, cleaner, healthier future for generations to come. 

For the Record is an edited version of a speech by U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris to Coppin State University in Baltimore, Maryland in July.

Q4 2023