There are young people like me who want to empower our communities and fight the climate crisis with a Civilian Climate Corps.
By Maricruz Ramirez, Special to CalMatters
Maricruz Ramirez is a working-class, first-generation Latina born and raised in Bakersfield. She’s a member of Sunrise Kern County.
I come from a household of five in Bakersfield, where I experience the impacts of the climate crisis every day. I am the only one in my family who doesn’t have chronic bronchitis or asthma.
If you talk to any family in the Central Valley, you will hear countless examples of people being affected by asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other health issues simply because they live in one of the regions with the nation’s most polluted air.
Fumes from oil wells combined with diesel truck exhaust and pesticides from farms create a dangerous mix of toxicity that gets trapped in the Central Valley, and it worsens when wildfire smoke is blown into the Valley.
This toxic mix harms the air quality and water supply of this region made up predominantly of Latinos who are poor and working class. This is not by accident or coincidence, and it is clear that the politicians – at the federal, state and Kern County level – are allowing the systemic and environmental racism we face to persist, while offering few or no solutions to save us.
But I’m not the only one who faces the impact of the climate crisis every day. Thousands of Californians, many BIPOC – Black, Indigenous, People of Color – struggle to breathe every day, whether it’s due to breathing in ash from wildfires or breathing polluted air.
And on top of that, we face the everyday anxiety of finding a good job, which is hard to do in Bakersfield. I have a bachelor’s degree, but it might as well be a piece of paper written with crayon. In my hometown, most work revolves around the oil industry. But after years of seeing the impact of oil and gas on my community, I do not want to be a tool for fossil fuel corporations that are making money while my family is being poisoned.
There are young people like me who want to stay in our home communities and reverse the harm that’s been done by decades of fossil fuel pollution. To do that, our government must pass a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps.
A Civilian Climate Corps would allow people like me to work for living wages while fighting the climate crisis. It would give so many people like me the opportunity to empower our communities – work we’ve been doing for years while not getting paid. But right now passing a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps is at risk because our politicians are cowering to fossil fuel executives and climate deniers.
Last November young people like me elected Joe Biden and helped flip Congress to Democratic control on a bold climate mandate. It’s because of us that Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House and Congress has the power to enact a progressive agenda that will transform the lives of so many of us struggling to survive the economic and climate crises we face. And as a Californian I’m looking to Pelosi to deliver for us.
Speaker Pelosi, are you on the side of fossil fuel companies polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink, or are you on the side of the BIPOC and young Californians who helped elect you? Californians not only want a Civilian Climate Corps, we need one. It’s time you act on that mandate and pass a reconciliation bill that meets the scale of the climate crisis – that means passing a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps so we can avert future crises and rebuild our communities.
The climate crisis is here and, according to the latest, brutally existential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, will only worsen. We can stop the suffering and prevent the next generation from a life of climate catastrophes – but only if Speaker Pelosi is willing to fight for us.