42 years ago, Earth Day was established because of active citizens and politicians coming together to advance national policies to protect the environment.
Today, Earth Day empowers thousands of individuals and communities who are searching for solutions to our energy needs, while continuing to respect and honor the planet that we call home.
But all of us could do more to support these people.
Take, for example, Phillip Barker, an African-American farmer in North Carolina. Facing increased fuel costs and a terrible economy, Mr. Barker faced an uphill battle to keep his dairy and vegetable farm operational and profitable. His solution – create his own biodiesel. Using restaurant oil and planting canola crops, Mr. Barker has been operating his farm petroleum-free for four years, keeping his farm profitable and environmentally cleaner than ever before. For more of his story, click the link below:
There are two important lessons we can learn from Mr. Barker’s story.
- People of color are critical and necessary innovators in our nation’s energy solutions. African-American farmers own and operate over 2.9 million farms, 97% of which are in the South. And many of these farmers are looking for ways to innovate in 21st century farming. Thanks to Mr. Barker, his farm serves as a national model for solutions that local farmers of all races can implement in order to support themselves economically and provide a renewable and clean energy future for all.
- Successful solutions are deeply connected to federal and state support. In addition to Mr. Barker’s innovation and determination, his success is made possible by policy and grant support from federal and state governments. Mr. Barker received grants from the USDA Risk Management Agency, NC Department of Agriculture, and National Resources Conservation Services. Thanks to this vital support, Mr. Barker has been able to invest public dollars to create clean energy that supports his farm, creates jobs, and provides training, education, and support to other farmers interested in following his model.
Technology and innovation have made it possible for people like Philip Barker to find new ways to conserve, be more efficient, and harness and distribute renewable resources locally. And while Mr. Barker’s success might seem small, it’s truly a big idea!
Imagine how much more we can honor the Earth if thousands of farming communities across the country followed Mr. Barker’s lead or if urban residents across the country could come together to harness the sun through community solar projects? For these to be possible, we need polices that support all of us in this effort, particularly communities of color – the fastest growing population in the country.
The Center for Social Inclusion’s recent report tackles this possibility and draws attention to policy solutions that could translate to future success stories. Policies that support community renewable solutions can help eliminate our reliance on dirty fuels, reduce our costs and create more economic opportunities.
For example, one simple step would be for the federal government to extend production tax credits to include community‐owned projects. Another step is for the federal government to support State and Local governments in the creation of community-focused Energy Improvement Districts (EIDs). EIDs allow us to: Designate tracts of land for rezoning and investment to encourage communities to utilize common and private spaces to meet their energy needs; provide financing options, such as bonding, to finance renewable energy projects; and utilize traditional organizing spaces, like places of worship and nonprofits as both conduits for community participation, and physical locations for energy generation projects.
Community-controlled renewable energy is a BIG idea. And the right policies can get us there.
In 1970, Earth Day and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency were considered big ideas. In 2012, we need to take these big ideas further by supporting policy solutions that allow everyday people like Phillip Barker to innovate and participate in an emerging green economy.
By Anthony Giancatarino, Researcher