This is a letter to the editor written by Katie Sims, a third-party progressive candidate for Ithaca mayor. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit letters to the editor, please send them to Matt Butler at mbutler@ithacavoice.com.

“If climate change is real, it seems like it’s going to be a big problem,” I said to my professor in my first environmental science class at Cornell. He raised his eyebrows at me, incredulously, and said “if?

By that point, we had decades of conclusive research showing that fossil fuels were warming the atmosphere and causing rapid changes to the climate patterns that humans have developed with; the climate patterns around which our economy and society are based. My doubt had been sown by well-funded disinformation campaigns, created to stop climate smart policy.

Quickly, I learned the reality that the climate is already changing; that floods, droughts, crop failures and heatwaves put people at risk in Ithaca and across the world. And that we’ve kept using fossil fuels because they’re good for business, even though they’re bad for people. I learned that we need a big shift.

We can keep lining the pockets of oil tycoons, or we can make a new generation of solar tycoons, or we can invest in a green economy where the prosperity is shared with workers, the community, and especially the people who experience the worst of fossil fuel impacts.   

Fossil fuels are at the very center of our economy, but we are in the midst of an economic and social transition to replace them with reliable, affordable, and safe renewable energy. Decades of subsidies for big oil, cars, and agricultural chemicals have worsened inequality and environmental racism while entrenching fossil fuel reliance. We need to invest in workers, public goods, and environmental justice to counteract this trend. 

This is the vision behind the Green New Deal. I was introduced to the concept in a church in Washington DC in December of 2018. As we — hundreds of activists from across the country — excitedly talked with brand new friends about our hometown climate justice movements, it was the first time I believed that national climate policy was possible. The next day, we and newly elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes filed into Congressional office buildings, and our demonstration put the Green New Deal on the map.

The Ithaca Green New Deal, as passed in 2019, is a promise to approach climate action with the urgency demanded by the crisis, in ways that simultaneously bring us toward a more just world. The implementation of the Green New Deal falls on the city staff and the mayor, and there are lots of nitty gritty details. Installing heat pumps, replacing gas stoves, expanding TCAT and making it free, building sustainable transportation infrastructure, electrical storage, efficiency upgrades, and on and on. And in every step, the transition must pay workers good wages and support unions, invest in communities facing longstanding disinvestment and experiencing the biggest risks of climate impacts, and dismantle the systemic racism that upholds the fossil fuel economy.

The call for the Ithaca Green New Deal came from young people like me, who are staring down our full adult lives and seeing climate instability, poor working conditions, a deteriorating social safety net, and skyrocketing health costs. We are building a better way forward. We have the tools and technology to turn to renewable energy: solar and wind energy, storage, smart meters, efficient electrical heating, induction stoves, electric buses, e-bikes, and more. We’ll have the money: the federal government just passed a huge pot of funding for climate adaptation that will disperse to cities like ours.  

So, what’s left that we need? The political leadership to move forward. 

Katie Sims 

Progressive Candidate for Mayor of Ithaca