On Wednesday, Feb. 8, students and activists from the Atlanta area gathered at the Institute’s Ferst Center of the Arts to attend a moderated conversation regarding climate policy and sustainability between current Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris, and professors Marshall Shepherd of the University of Georgia and Isaiah Bolden of Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS).
Vice President Harris discussed how the Biden administration plans to tackle significant environmental issues and hoped to inspire the students in the audience to address the growing climate crisis.
“For all the students that are here … really see this as an area that is so vast in terms of the skills that will be required. We’re talking about a new approach, a new industry, and we need you guys there. We really need you,” Harris said to the audience.
She also acknowledged the critical role of equity, social justice and public health in addressing climate change and the need to ensure that all communities, particularly those of low income, have a voice in shaping the policies and solutions that affect their lives.
“Part of [the solution] is understanding the level of knowledge that these communities have … so jump forward, but do it in a way that it is inclusive, and [in a way] that we are asking the communities that are affected to lead and not telling them what we’re going to do for them,” Harris said.
Harris’ visit is a stop on a larger campaign for the administration, and significant attendance from activists in various grassroots organizations, including Stacey Abrams, illustrated Georgia’s ongoing position as a battleground state for the 2024 election.
Her visit to campus reinforced the main ideas that President Joe Biden delivered the previous night through his State of the Union address, and her concrete promises of action mirrored his promise to “finish the job” in a second term. Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act outlined $369 billion in climate spending, which is “the most significant investment ever in climate change” according to Biden in his address.
When asked which policies she was most excited about under this climate investment, Harris was eager to highlight the administration’s plans for clean water policy. In fact, she circled back to the subject of water policy multiple times, stating “one of the things that excites [me] most is water policy, and … by that I mean the importance of all of us understanding that access to clean water should be a right.”
She continued to outline her plans to improve water quality by saying, “our goal with the [infrastructure bill] money is to get rid of all lead pipes within the next nine years.”
Harris’ visit also spotlights both the state of Georgia and the Institute as emerging leaders in sustainable technology and research. In 2019, the Korean-owned solar panel manufacturing business Qcells opened the largest solar panel factory in the Western Hemisphere in Dalton, Ga.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp also recently announced the opening of a new factory in Cartersville that is projected to employ over 2,500 employees by the end of 2024. Automotive giants Hyundai and Rivian are also working with the state government to develop electric vehicle (EV) production plants in the state.
Tech is currently pioneering research in solid-state and graphene-type rechargeable batteries, which “have been considered as a most promising next-generation battery” according to the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Tech’s research initiatives make up a part of bipartisan efforts to transition to more sustainable EVs, and the Biden administration’s effort to create jobs through the incentivization of EV production in the near future.
“We also have rebates, and not only to produce or purchase an electric vehicle. We now have, for the first time, rebates for purchasing used electric vehicles. It should not be that only the people who have wealth can have access to electric vehicles,” Harris said during the discussion.
She also said that, “if we agree that it’s about public health for everybody, and if it’s about emissions that affect everybody, everyone should be able to partake in moving into this new clean energy economy.”
Harris’ visit to Tech’s campus represents the increasingly present call for climate action that policymakers are starting to answer, and the new ideas that it is bringing. It serves as a rallying call for students at Tech and the surrounding universities and reminds them that although the nation is at the forefront of sustainable innovation, its continuance will be the responsibility of this generation’s junior engineers and scientists.