Hagar and Ishmael by George Hitchcock
Low-wealth communities and communities of color are most vulnerable to pollution and the impacts of climate change, suffering from skewed rates of asthma and respiratory ailments as a result. To make matters even worse, these communities were hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of illness, death, and economic fallout.
In March, President Joe Biden unveiled a bold infrastructure package to help solve these connected challenges — health, climate, justice and jobs — by investing in pollution-free, efficient renewable energy, transportation, infrastructure and new and innovative technologies. The plan would also ensure that at least 40% of the benefits of all these investments go to those communities that have traditionally been overburdened by pollution, while putting millions of people back to work.
However, it is essential that these plans and investments must not overlook the root causes of the climate crisis or cause any harm to overburdened and underserved communities. As an environmental justice activist and the founder and director of Wisconsin Green Muslims who for two decades facilitated Muslim and interfaith initiatives on energy and water equity, I see protecting the land and water as directly connected to my faith.
In Islam, the story of Mother Hajar, wife of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and mother of Prophet Ismail, who searched in the desert for water for her thirsty baby son, emphasizes the important role of Muslim women as well as humanity’s dependence on water for our continued existence. Muslims follow in the footsteps of Mother Hajar as they perform their Hajj (pilgrimage) and move from one hill to the other. Mother Hajar discovered the holy water that keeps on giving life up to today, and her story is an inspiration for many. It is a story of faith in action.
Many mothers and families carry the same courage and tenacity as Mother Hajar in seeking clean water and a healthy, dignified life for their children. For many families in Wisconsin and across the nation, this past year made the latter a challenge, but it was the anchor of our faith and our spiritual, sacred teachings that guided so many of us forward. Our faith teaches us to look out for one another and, to that end, fulfill our moral obligation to leave a habitable world for future generations, especially as it relates to our environment and health.
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It is urgent that Congress pass a bill that makes the big, bold and ambitious investments needed to tackle the climate crisis, achieve true environmental justice and accelerate the transition to pollution-free, efficient renewable energy. To meet this moment, to heed the science and to make good on the promises of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Congress must act now to deliver on climate, justice and jobs including bold investments that will eliminate pollution and spur Wisconsin’s and our nation’s healthy energy growth.
Access to clean drinking water and clean air to breathe should not be a luxury only some enjoy. Congress must invest in clean water infrastructure for all communities and clean transportation infrastructure that can remove pollutants from our air. This package will lead to significant improvements to our public health. By modernizing our water infrastructure, in addition to revitalizing our electric grid and expanding pollution-free, efficient, renewable energy, we will provide a better quality of life for all.
Communities across the country and voters from both parties want these exact kinds of investments. In fact, recent polling found that 81% of battleground voters support overhauling our country’s drinking water infrastructure, and 70% support addressing the climate crisis by transitioning to clean energy sources like wind and solar. Our leaders in Washington need to deliver on these bold investments in any final infrastructure package.
Faith leaders from across the country have united in their call for a recovery plan that will help us rebuild in a way that makes us stronger than ever before. That’s why I have joined more than 3,400 faith leaders from around the country, and over 150 faith leaders from Wisconsin, in adding my name to a letter to Congress calling for an economic recovery and infrastructure package that creates family- and community-sustaining jobs while caring for our climate and our neighbors. It is the Hijrah, the departure from the bad to the good, toward a future of real climate solutions, justice, and jobs for all.
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