On April 22, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. Earth Day has a long and proud history here in Wisconsin. Our own Senator Gaylord Nelson help create Earth Day and spread grassroots environmental activism around the country at a time when rivers were so polluted they caught on fire. Since then, the U.S. created the Environmental Protection Agency, adopted the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Here in Madison, we are working as hard as ever to protect our environment and our community from the biggest threat we face – catastrophic climate disruption. We have committed to making City Government Carbon Neutral by 2030. We are on track to have 1 megawatt of solar installed on City Buildings this year, and we are setting new goals for more. In addition to what we can install on our own rooftops, we’re purchasing offsite solar energy as well. We are aggressively transitioning our fleet to low- and no-emission vehicles. We are well on our way to having 40 plug-in EVs and 60 hybrid-electric cars operational this year, and these numbers will continue to climb. New city buildings are built to LEED-Silver standards at a minimum, with many achieving Gold or Platinum ratings.

Across the community, we incentivize solar installations on homes and businesses through MadiSUN, and we’re planning for bus rapid transit fueled by electric buses through MetroForward, and we’re working with Dane County, the Clean Lakes Alliance, Friends of Lake Wingra, and others to clean our lakes, and green our infrastructure.

But the City is just one of many organizations working to improve Madison’s sustainability. Today, and reminiscent of environmental protests in 1970, the Youth Climate Action Team and its partners are inspiring tens of thousands of young Madisonians to take to the streets and demand a better future than the one we’re on track to leave them. SustainDane is helping to forge and highlight partnerships between a diverse set of residents and organizations to highlight that community equity and resilience work are as core to the definition of sustainability as environmentalism is. And helping forge that community equity and resilience are organizations all across our city, with programs like Healthy Food for All, Just Bakery, The Gardens Network, and many more.

Looking Forward

Right now, we’re focused on an immediate response to the COVID-19 crisis – flattening the curve, and ensuring food access and housing support for all Madison residents. While we focus here now, we must also start looking toward long-term economic recovery. The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for years. Every level of government will need to be focused on rebuilding our economy while maintaining public health. We have an opportunity to do this in a way that centers equity and our environment.

After the great depression, President Roosevelt rebuilt our country through the New Deal. We will need to do the same in the coming months and years. Luckily, we have a present-day blueprint for that – the Green New Deal – which calls for building a stronger and better nation by centering people, equity, climate and environmental health in our economic solutions.

As we see recovery bills coming from state and federal government in the coming months, we can advocate that funds be directed toward better-paying and more stable jobs than the ones that were lost. With carefully-constructed training programs and jobs pipelines, we can help direct these jobs to the communities that need those most, reducing Madison’s poverty levels and racial disparities in the process, which benefits us all. We can build clean and rapid community transit and clean energy systems, and help solve the climate crisis in the process. We can provide safe and affordable housing for everyone who needs it. And we can make sure that everyone has access to healthy and affordable food.

The COVID-19 pandemic requires us to invest in building our economy back up. Let’s build back better. Let’s make our economy, our environment, and our people stronger and more resilient in the long-run.

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