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We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For: Connecticut’s Climate Leadership

Aug 20, 2022

On August 16th, 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed into law, committing $369 billion to mitigate climate change and advance the country’s transition to clean energy. As the most significant Federal climate initiative in history, the passage of the IRA should be celebrated, but we cannot exult for too long. We witnessed the regression of climate policy under the Trump administration and have no guarantee that the climate gains won by the IRA and more will be sustained in the wake of the 2024 elections. 

Climate deniers currently comprise a majority of both House and Senate Republicans, more than one-quarter of the total number of elected officials in Congress. As the Republican party becomes increasingly synonymous with climate inaction and opposition to clean energy, this trend does not seem to be waning – of the 69 freshmen representatives and senators elected to their respective offices in 2020, one-third deny the science of climate change, including three-of-four new Republican senators.

Furthermore, the United States military is one of the largest climate polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more CO2e (carbon-dioxide equivalent) than most countries”. Simply put, despite the bright spot created by the IRA, the Federal government has not proven itself as a reliable ally in the fight against climate change. Given this track record, it would be foolish for us to pin our hopes of a sustainable future solely on them. 

The Role of the States

In the gap between what must be done to stop climate change and what is currently being accomplished, state governments have a significant role to play. I moved to Connecticut in 2021 after a brief stint in Texas, where I experienced firsthand how a state’s ineptitude, greed, and lack of climate preparedness can devastatingly affect its citizens. As Hell froze over and my neighbors and I were plunged into cold and darkness, the state’s leadership not only failed to take responsibility for the policies leading to the shutdown and subsequent deaths of 246 people, but then lied about renewable energy being to blame. Believe me when I say that states’ climate leadership matters. 

When thinking about states leading the way in mitigating climate change and building climate resilience, places like California or Colorado might come to mind. But Connecticut has been quietly modeling climate leadership for decades. In 1990, Connecticut was the first state in the nation to pass global warming legislation to reduce carbon emissions. The Global Warming Solutions Act was signed into law in 2008, targeting an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050. Earlier this year, climate activists won a significant victory with the passage of the Climate Change Mitigation Act, committing Connecticut to a zero-carbon energy supply by 2040 and the Connecticut Clean Air Act, which will expand the use of electric vehicles (EVs) to reduce greenhouse gases. 

Mobilizing Private Investments

Policy isn’t the only lever of change available to states. Connecticut has also demonstrated that finance is a powerful tool in the fight against climate change. The Connecticut Green Bank was established in 2011 as the nation’s first green bank and has since mobilized nearly $2.5 billion into the State’s green economy.  

In a press release applauding the passage of the IRA, Lonnie Reed, Chair of the Connecticut Green Bank, and former Co-Chair of the Energy & Technology Committee said, “We have demonstrated in Connecticut how to deploy public resources to attract and mobilize private investment that is creating jobs in our municipalities, reducing energy burdens on our families and businesses, and confronting climate change – especially in vulnerable communities.” 

An example of this mobilization is Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union, which has partnered with the Connecticut Green Bank since 2013 to offer the Smart-E loan that provides members with low interest rate financing to make energy- and money-saving upgrades to their homes. “This investment improves our communities and our environment, while making homes more comfortable. The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act could unlock similar opportunities for credit unions like ours nationwide,” said John Holt, CEO of Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union.

Investments like these have reduced the energy cost burden for over 66,000 families, businesses, and nonprofits since 2011, supported the creation of more than 26,000 green energy jobs in the state, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and worsen public health. Additionally, the Connecticut Green Bank has established a goal of directing no less than 40 percent of investment and benefits from its programs into vulnerable communities that are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change by 2025.   

Who is Responsible for Climate Action?

Conversations surrounding climate policy and adaptation can often devolve into blame-shifting and “what-about-isms.” But in the uphill battle against climate change, everyone is responsible. Federal, state, and local governments all need to prioritize community-centered climate resilience, and the private sector must join them. 

Connecticut has been a model for smart climate policies and investments for decades, and this is largely attributable to the people who call this state home. As poets and politicians say, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” and we cannot let up or slow down. Climate change may be the greatest threat we’ve faced as a society, but as the greatest opportunity for innovation and collaboration, it’s ours to lead.