Our climate crisis looks bleak on social media, but there’s hope in the IRA

As a recent sustainability graduate of Arizona State University, I’m excited to join the workforce and dedicate myself to protecting and maintaining the health of our state’s landscapes and people. At 22 years old, the prospect of having my whole life ahead of me should fill me with hope.

But as a climate justice organizer since my teens, it’s been increasingly hard to not be caught up in the feeling that our ongoing drought has not only taken our water with it, but also our hope. 

This is especially true amidst the growing flood of environmental news that engulfs social media. Within a few seconds online, any number of infographics, pictures and videos race across our screens. 

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This summer, the vast majority of these social media posts have been capturing the worst heat wave that Phoenix has ever seen. Heat rising off the asphalt, burning people who fall onto the ground. People sweating, seeking out air-conditioned shelter, trying to stay hydrated and cool despite the scorching sun. 

“At least it’s a dry heat,” we’ve heard so often. But after a record-breaking stretch of consecutive days above 110 degrees and nights that didn’t fall below 90 degrees, “dry heat” wasn’t much comfort. 

Our state is expected to make up almost half of the nation’s heat-related deaths, even though our state’s population represents around just 2% of the total U.S. population. There are almost 200,000 people in our state who are living below the poverty line and either older than 65 or under 5 years old, making them particularly susceptible to the dangerous effects of extreme heat. 

Communities of color and low-income communities are more likely to live in “urban heat islands,” or metropolitan areas where tall buildings and asphalt trap heat without trees to offset the warming effects. And the 22 federally recognized tribal nations face threats ranging from difficulty growing corn to increased wildfires to inability to feed livestock.  

As a young Zapotec-American, the son of two resilient immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, these are the reasons that drove me to become involved in climate justice organizing. The people most impacted by pollution and extreme weather often have power actively taken from them, kept from having a say in providing solutions. This is especially true when considering harmful past, current, and proposed statewide legislation in Arizona that targets indigenous people, Latiné communities, migrants, LGBTQ+ youth, and more.

Efforts made in the name of progress have far too often come at the expense of those of us that are most vulnerable, being deemed as less of a priority than people with lighter skin and heavier wallets. 

But progress isn’t really progress if it benefits only a select few. Right now, we have an opportunity to usher in a clean energy economy that will benefit all Arizonans, and to do it equitably. 

I’m optimistic about what the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law just a little more than one year ago, has already done and what it has the potential to do. The IRA is projected to help us avoid 100,000 asthma attacks across the country in 2030, a sign of hope for Latiné communities in Phoenix that have long endured health impacts resulting from disproportionately poor air quality. It also offers tax credits to help people afford solar panels, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient appliances. 

There are also IRA tax credits for community solar projects, with additional credits for projects at affordable housing properties and in low-income communities. Community solar allows families and businesses whose houses or offices may not have solar panels to purchase blocks of solar energy at affordable prices. It helps spread the benefits of clean energy to people who historically have been locked out. 

The IRA is also helping upgrade affordable housing properties with storm-proofing and clean energy, while the Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program is supporting communities across the country in their efforts to better prepare for extreme heat. 

While the IRA is an incredibly important step in the right direction, it is not all encompassing. Our fight to address the climate crisis is far from over. The same administration that led the charge for the IRA has simultaneously continued approving new drilling and pipeline projects in pursuit of the same oil and gas that drive the crises we currently face. 

In spite of this, I’m cautiously optimistic. After centuries of fossil fuel pollution, it will take all of our collective efforts to reverse course. The people leading this fight are nothing short of inspiring, though they shouldn’t have to be in order for our leaders to take action. 

While it isn’t everything that we want, just a few years ago legislation like the IRA would have been deemed nearly impossible to pull together. It’s a seedling of hope in a landscape that was once devoid of it. It is up to us to help preserve this hope and build the future that we so desperately need.

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