Wow. Just wow. It isn’t enough that in Trump’s first six months in office he has rolled back environmental protections and upended climate progress, or attempted to put in place a Muslim ban and give immigration enforcement agents free reign to deport and detain immigrants — now he’s suggesting putting solar panels on his heinous border wall as a means to pay for it?
Not on our watch.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Handmaid’s Tale, the tv series adapted from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel. The story is set in the Republic of Gilead, a theocratic military dictatorship formed from what was once the United States, where the constitution and congress are upended – and fascism has won. With a world population shrinking due to a climate change, and with the ability to reproduce greatly reduced due to toxic environmental changes, the leaders of Gilead (made only of white men) severely restrict women’s rights and other human rights in their attempt to recreate society, bring down carbon emissions, and maintain reproduction of the human race.
There is a particular scene that haunts me – one where at a Gilead state dinner for foreign ambassadors (who are considering taking on handmaids as a model to deal with their own population problem), the Commander’s wife boasts of how the republic has succeeded in reducing emissions. She then asks that the children, birthed by the handmaids, but raised by the State, be brought out for the ambassadors to see. The handmaids, forcibly sitting at tables with no rights to their bodies, look on with tears in their eyes as the children they were forced to have get paraded in front of the officials.
There is a lesson to be learned for climate activists and movement organizers from this haunting story, one that has to do with co-optation tactics of the State.
While businesses, states, and cities, move towards renewable and clean energy — as they should — human rights, dignity, and justice must be at the center of these calls for transition. Trump’s offhand suggestion that he’d be open to trying out renewable energy sources like solar on the southern border wall, which is built on the ideology of exclusion and frankly, white supremacist nationalism, is the exact opposite of the just transition we want.
We need momentum to secure a clean energy future from all States, and we’re already starting to see many states capitalize on this market. But while states like Texas, despite their Republican governors, are some of the fastest growing renewable states in the country, they are also enacting some of the most heinous laws when it comes to immigration and reproductive rights.
In May, for example, Texas passed an anti-sanctuary city law called Senate Bill 4 (SB4), which would go into effect in September. Signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, SB4 penalizes sheriffs, police chiefs, and other local leaders who don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The law imposes penalties on state local officials who prevent officers from asking about individuals immigration status.
Lawmakers in Texas also introduced Senate Bill 8, an omnibus measure that includes some of the strictest abortion restrictions the state has seen in years. SB 8 criminalizes two abortion procedures, which should apply only to the doctors who perform them. Similar anti-abortion, anti-reproductive rights, and anti-LGBT laws have been proposed and passed in many red states investing in renewable energy.
In Oklahoma, another state investing in clean energy, a state lawmaker recently suggested that deporting undocumented children (or in his words “82,000 non-English speaking students”) was a way for the state’s public schools to save millions of dollars. This follows a long history of anti-immigrant actions in Oklahoma, including the 2007 HB1804, which enacted a series of restrictions intended to limit access to jobs and public services for undocumented immigrants and to expand the powers of state and local law enforcement to ask people about their immigration status.
While we absolutely need these States to step up and move forward the transition to renewable energy in the absence of federal action on climate change, real climate justice means committing to a holistic vision of the future – one that is anchored in immigrant rights, racial justice, reproductive freedom, and dignity and justice for all. We fight climate change because it aggravates injustice, and our solutions can’t be used in tandem with acts of injustice. That’s what a just transition means – it does not mean using clean energy as part of strategies of exclusion and oppression. It certainly does not mean supporting Trump’s border wall.
About the Author: Thanu Yakupitiyage is the U.S Communications Manager at 350.org. In addition to work on climate justice, Thanu is a long-time immigrant rights activist, media professional, and cultural organizer based in New York City.