Erik Voss

Actor Mark Ruffalo, third from right, joins clean energy advocates to kick off the ATL100 campaign.

Commentary: A time to break down, a time to build up: energy equity and the Southeast’s future

This is a tale of two September Tuesdays in the American South.

On one Tuesday, Atlantans begin the painful task of clean up in the wake of a tropical storm. Scientists tell them the fossil fuels they burn contribute to climate change and the warming seas, which are fueling this year’s brutal hurricane season. People sit in the dark without power, feeling powerless.

Nathaniel Smith is the founder and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity.

The following Tuesday, Atlantans gather to shine a spotlight on local clean energy leaders. Hollywood stars celebrate their efforts to move the city toward 100 percent clean energy, which will cut back on local pollution while curbing climate change, building a healthier city and a stronger economy for all of Atlanta. People sit in theater seats, then stand, cheering, feeling powerful.

In that second Tuesday is a tale of hope — not just for Atlanta, but for all of the Southeast and the nation.

The national nonprofit Solutions Project, co-founded by actor Mark Ruffalo, hosted that Atlanta celebration at the city’s Plaza Theater. Imagine activists’ surprise when a video featuring Ruffalo – who plays the “Incredible Hulk” in the Avengers movies – and Chris “Captain America” Evans called to them from the silver screen, asking them to stand up and be applauded for their work.

The video, which will be playing in pre-shows at movie theaters across Atlanta for the next few weeks, features animated super-hero versions of each honoree. It’s a multi-cultural, multi-generational team of “environmental avengers.” They’re working hard on everything from fighting dirty coal-fired power plants and overpriced nuclear power plans, to documenting how Georgia’s renewable energy industry is already creating good local jobs for all and growing our economy. They’re in the vanguard of a growing movement that aims to make sure that all Georgians – urban and rural, rich and poor, black and white – benefit from the just transition to clean energy that is already underway across the country and around the world.

The party at the Plaza kicks off ATL100, a campaign spotlighting Atlantans who are helping the city achieve its recent commitment to 100 percent renewable energy. It’s part of the Solutions Project’s 100% campaign, which aims for the day when everyone will be able to choose clean energy and share in its benefits. Despite the work of these local heroes and many others like them, Atlanta has a long way to go. We get less than two percent of our energy from renewable sources.

But like so much of the Southeast, we have an advantage in our tremendous potential for solar power. The hot, sunny days when our need for power is greatest are exactly the days when solar energy generation soars. It’s not hard to imagine solar panels dotting city rooftops, schools, suburban parking lots and rural farm fields, powering homes and businesses, while large-scale solar power plants help utilities keep up with demand. Imagine the difference a real commitment to solar power would make for the health and economic vitality of our region – and for all the people who call it home.

At the Partnership for Southern Equity, we know that just as Atlantans led the nation in the struggle for civil rights and racial justice in the 20th Century, we are well positioned to lead the fight for a clean-energy future that empowers us all. And it’s a model that will resonate with many communities across the Southeast.

We can build up today’s people and economy without jeopardizing future generations. We can craft a future where everyone has access to clean, affordable energy and the opportunities it brings, and can breathe cleaner air in a more stable climate. We can, once again, show the world how real progress is made.

Nathaniel Smith is the founder and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE), a nonprofit working to advance policies and institutional actions that promote racial equity and shared prosperity for all in the growth of metropolitan Atlanta and the American South. PSE is a Solutions Project grant recipient.

One thought on “Commentary: A time to break down, a time to build up: energy equity and the Southeast’s future

  1. This is the way of the future. We all need to get our energy from clean sources in order to have a health earth.