The Current: Savannah-area leaders call for climate action

April 11th, 2022

$550 billion earmarked for climate and environmental solutions is stalled in the U.S. Senate


By Mary Landers


Over the last decade, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson has noticed how a changing climate has threatened his city, and he’s calling on the U.S. Senate to protect it.


“Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, we know things are changing, things are different,” Johnson said at a press conference organized by the Climate Action Campaign in Savannah’s Johnson Square Tuesday. “We know the days are hotter. We know the days are wetter.”


“We also have more flooding events here in Savannah due to the occurrence of more intense storms, and rising sea levels,” Johnson continued. “As a matter of fact, 70% of our major flooding events along the Georgia coast have occurred here since 2015. Seventy percent.”


Johnson, along with Savannah Alderman Nick Palumbo, a former U.S. Foreign Service Agent, and Army veteran and Chatham County Commissioner Aaron “Adot” Whitely, emphasized the national security risk connected to climate change in their appeal to the Senate.


In November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better plan including $550 billion earmarked for climate and environmental protection solutions. That legislation, however, has stalled in the U.S. Senate.


Whitely served as a combat medic in Afghanistan where he said he saw the effects of energy dependency.


“Those effects run into health risks, national security risks, as well as diminished military footprints,” he said. “And those are some of the dangers that climate change brings right here to America.”


Palumbo served as a special agent in the U.S. Foreign Service at Embassy in Baghdad in 2010 and 2011, where he said he saw the cost in American lives and in money in getting involved in overseas conflicts over oil.


“I believe in an America that can stand on its own two feet and be energy independent and resilient,” Palumbo said. “We have the technology, we have the know-how, we have the ability, and that’s why we’re calling on Congress to make those investments. Now. As we stand on the precipice of possibly another global conflict, it turns my stomach to see American dollars go to an autocrat like Vladimir Putin. We should be the most resilient nation on Earth.”


Savannah in 2020 passed a resolution vowing to ensure that all electricity consumed in the city is generated by safe, clean, renewable energy by 2035. Federal help could give the city a boost in those goals. Take its electric vehicle fleet, for example. The city is already leasing electric vehicles and plans to make 20% of its 2,500 or so vehicles electric by the end of the year. But it’s running into problems getting enough chargers in place.


Johnson emphasized energy equity.


“It’s about making sure that folks are able to weatherize so that they’re able to take care of it where it’s not cost prohibitive, and really more cost favorable for people to be able to have that type of technology,” he said.


He also challenged Chatham County to make its own 100% clean energy goal. Whitely took him up on it.


“I will pledge to take that back to my colleagues so we can work on it,” he said.



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