As part of a larger worldwide movement to act against climate change, the West Broad Farmers Market hosted “Rise for Climate Athens!” on Sept. 8 to push for a transition to 100 percent renewable energy for all of Athens.
The event, sponsored by groups including Athens for Everyone and the Georgia Climate Change Coalition, was both a rallying cry to gather locals, activists and politicians concerned about climate change and a preview of what to expect when Athens Mayor-elect Kelly Girtz and a new commission take office this January.
“This next year is going to be a watershed year for this community,” Girtz said. “With my colleagues, many of them here today, in 2019 the unified government of Athens-Clarke County is going to take a stand.”
A multitude of politicians, including Girtz, commissioners and state representatives attended the event to make their positions clear on mitigating climate change.
“The question is political will, not if, but how and when. We must move to renewable energy,” said Jerry NeSmith, District 6 commissioner. “It just makes economic sense, ecological sense and common sense.”
Some believe that fighting against climate change will hurt the economy, a belief that Jonathan Wallace, Georgia State House representative for District 119, disagrees with.
“There’s always a dichotomy, a false choice, that is presented: We can have clean energy, or we can have good jobs. We can’t have both, and I think that’s a false choice,” Wallace said. “We can have both.”
Wallace said the clean energy industry is “growing rapidly” and that “jobs are created 12 times faster in the clean energy industry compared to other industries.”
Girtz said he believes Athens must transition to clean energy to play a part in fighting climate change and to put human health first over monetary gain.
“This is a time when we have to make sure we stop using 19th century technology for 21st century needs,” Girtz said. “This is a time, ladies and gentlemen, when we have to say we no longer can soil our air and disserve our bodies in order to make money.”
Girtz said he is setting a “defined goal for fully renewable energy in this community” that “cannot wait any longer,” a goal that he relates to personally.
“I left my six-year-old son about 15 minutes ago as his birthday party was breaking up,” Girtz said. “I can’t look him in the face every day and feel like I am doing any kind of job as a parent if I can’t come to you as a policy maker and say, ‘I am going to set a world up in which he can be proud to live, in which he can live healthily, in which he can live successfully.’”
Deborah Gonzalez, Georgia State House representative for District 117, said she does “not want to be the generation that is responsible for leaving the Earth worse” and that people should focus on day-to-day actions to mitigate climate change.
Actions to take include using reusable bags instead of single-use plastic ones, installing electric or hybrid engines in county and transit vehicle fleets, protecting waterways, creating and protecting more green spaces and creating a fare-free public transit system, as suggested by District 5 Commissioner-elect Tim Denson.
“How do you move a mountain? One pail at a time,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not asking you to go run for office and to go topple this presidency. What I am asking you to do is something very simple. Turn off the light, use a glass instead of plastic when you drink a glass of water, use real dishes and forks and then wash them. Don’t use a dishwasher.”