Midwest Matters

Climate Commitments in the Midwest

By Matthew Boyd, class of ’24 Washington University

In the United States, climate action taken up by the coasts often gets the bulk of the attention but there have also been important milestones taken up by other parts of the United States. In particular, the Midwest, a region that many people consider to embrace fossil fuels, has made legitimate strides forward in turning the Midwest into a climate resilient, sustainable, and equitable region. However, several actors have emerged as leaders in advancing a climate response that could translate into real momentum across the country.

 One of these leaders is the state of Illinois and the work of Governor J.B. Pritzker. Illinois was the first state in the Midwest to adopt legislation towards both, combatting climate change and building an economy for the future, by putting the state on a path towards 100% clean energy by 2050. The legislation, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, is remarkable not just for being a first in the region, but also because it makes a concerted effort to ensure an equitable energy transition. Through the hard work of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition and its 200 groups representing health care, environmental justice, labor, and consumer groups, to name a few, the legislation was crafted to support underinvested communities. The bill incorporates  innovative ideas that would advance an equitable energy transition in the region, ranging from the creation of a bill of rights for displaced energy workers and aggressive requirements for fossil fuel plants to meet transition deadlines.

Outside of the passage of bills and commitments, there are many other ways in which states in the Midwest have sought to be a part of creating a better future for the region. In particular, there are developments such as the newly created Office of Environmental Justice in Wisconsin that reflect an understanding of the challenges that climate change will bring to the region and how much more needs to be done, above and beyond investing in renewables.

Alongside these accomplishments, there are also challenges to state action, as demonstrated by a handful of states in the region that have resisted putting forth any type of climate commitment or legislation. However, in these cases, local governments are often taking it upon themselves to fill in gaps where they may exist. In Ohio, despite the lack of a state level commitment, the four largest cities in the state have adopted some type of climate-based commitment, taking it upon themselves to take the lead for the state. Cities do not have to restrict themselves to leading their state as many cities have set the bar for the United States as a whole. For example, the city of Des Moines, Iowa aims to achieve 100%, 24/7 carbon-free electricity, the first city to do so.

Governments are not the sole source of meaningful climate action in the Midwest either.  Universities are also leveraging their unique positions as members of local, national and global communities to create a space where thoughtful environmental stewardship can be adapted and advanced. This is done, not only through cutting-edge research, but also in University operations and community engagement. These interactions can also look wildly different, whether it be UW-Madison signing onto the Resilience Commitment by Second Nature, which requires multiple years of planning and road mapping to meet desired goals, or Northland College having the REFund, a fund for student led sustainability projects on campus, encouraging students to engage in climate action.

Even though the drivers may look different, the common thread in these efforts is a dedication to creating a more sustainable future for the Midwest. As a diverse region with unique challenges, these efforts are coming at a perfect time as more leaders in the Midwest are looking to their peers for inspiration and solutions as unique as both the challenges and the people in the region.

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