A Bus Ride for Clean Energy

Today, more people are talking about clean energy than ever before. On one level, we're talking about technology like windmills, solar panels and advanced electric power grids. We all know that these are the technologies that can deliver safe, clean and affordable energy to our homes and businesses. But we must also go to a deeper level when we talk about clean energy. A human level.

In my work as an actress and an activist, I've spent many years working with low income communities and people of color who don't always have a voice in our political process.

I've traveled to small towns where I've seen the terrible health consequences from environmental pollution. I've seen communities in West Virginia that once were vibrant and now are ghost towns. I met a remarkable young Native American woman who went to Capitol Hill to tell her story about a community dominated by oil refineries where there are also high rates of cancer.

When dirty, old-fashioned energy sources pollute our air and water, it becomes a blatant public health problem -- one that is especially burdensome for low income and minority groups. When a community doesn't have strong financial resources or political clout, the people who live there are often victims of environmental injustice. Corporations are poisoning our air and water, while at the same time lining the pockets of elected officials with political contributions.

Meanwhile, our communities are in dire economic straits. During this difficult financial time, the demographic hit the hardest is people with an annual household income of $12,499 or less. In this group, the recent unemployment rate is 30%.

We have to stop this madness. This is not America as it should be.

That's why the clean energy movement is about empowering these communities. It's about giving them a voice.

That's why I'm excited to join the Hip Hop Caucus Clean Energy Now! Bus Tour, which kicks off in New Orleans this Thursday Feb. 18th, and will make its way to Washington, D.C. The tour is bringing together young people, communities of color, people of faith, entertainers and business leaders. What unites these diverse groups is their call for a transition to clean energy.

We all need a little more hope these days and clean energy is about putting hope into action.

Clean energy is about offering people the opportunity to do what's right for themselves and the people they love. It's about reducing the pollution that makes people sick. It's about helping the low-income families struggling to pay their gas and electricity bills. It's about opening new factories, starting new businesses, and creating new job opportunities for the millions of people who are out of work. It's about building our communities.

We can create millions of new jobs by building the energy infrastructure of the future, using technology that is available today. This means putting Americans back to work by building and installing wind turbines, and creating jobs for people who retrofit homes and businesses to improve energy efficiency. There will be clean energy jobs for people out of high school and people with college degrees. There will be jobs for professionals and jobs for entry-level workers. New businesses that take advantage of these opportunities will open their doors and revitalize our neighborhoods, restoring pride into the hearts of all Americans ... Black, White, Native American, Asian, Latino, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist ... all of us!

For too long, we've been sending our money to companies that destroy our environment and don't give their wealth back to us. What we urgently need is to regain our self-esteem and a sense of control over our future. We need to discontinue the self-destructive behavior of borrowing money from China and giving that money to countries that don't like us, all the while making them stronger while we become weaker and more dependent. We have got to quit our addiction to oil. We need to stop destroying our extraordinary natural beauty in this great country in order to burn fossil fuels.

A transition to clean energy is about making an investment in our future. We can take action today to put people back to work, make our communities prosper, and making life for everyone healthier and more prosperous.

We need to start now.

Gloria Reuben is a nationally known environmental activist and a special
advisor to The Alliance for Climate Protection.