If decisive action isn’t taken, my generation will have to endure the impending consequences of droughts and wildfires
OPED By Nithya Raghunath, 17, is a resident of the East Bay Area, a team leader of Sunrise Bay Area and a co-coordinator of CA Youth Vs. Big Oil. She is a senior at American High School in Fremont.
September 24, 2021
On Sept. 14, Californians made it clear that Gov. Gavin Newsom would stay in office.
Californians said no to reactionary right-wing bigotry and misogyny. But that was not the only sentiment expressed that evening.
“I want to focus on what we said ‘yes’ to as a state,” Newsom said, adding that the vote was a yes to science, racial justice, environmental justice and public health. And indeed it was thanks to the social movements rallying behind those causes that Newsom kept his office. These movements did so even though the governor has been reluctant to move with anything like the urgency addressing each of them requires. They did so simply because the alternative appeared so much worse. But Newsom needs to offer more than simply not being as bad as the alternatives.
I am a 17-year-old growing up in the Bay Area, and my formative years are being defined by the climate crisis. I have witnessed school cancellations, water use restrictions and wildfires that have burned communities to the ground — all as a result of the climate crisis. I have also witnessed the governor wine and dine oil lobbyists at expensive restaurants while permitting thousands of oil wells in frontline communities of color.
Amid wildfires that have scorched the earth and incinerated communities, I have been forced to attend school in the apocalyptic haze and breathe in the smoke. Year after year, I am confronted with my future going up in flames. Fossil fuels and climate inaction got us here.
As a young person, I am deeply anxious about the looming threat posed by the climate crisis and am aware that if decisive action isn’t taken, my generation will have to endure the impending consequences of climate-driven droughts, wildfires, superstorms and ecosystem collapse.
Swift and decisive action on climate justice is one of the priorities Californians said yes to on Sept. 14. Yet, although California has a reputation of being a climate leader, it remains one of the largest oil-producing states in the nation. More than five million Californians live near an active oil well, and California is the only state with no setback distances governing the proximity of oil drilling to communities.
The oil industry has been allowed to use marginalized communities as sacrifice zones across California. Oil infrastructure is disproportionately located in communities of color, which are already at higher risk due to air pollution. Newsom claims to be an advocate for racial justice, but he has continued permitting new drilling in communities of color, entrenching the environmental racism he claims to oppose.
Meanwhile, the state has continued to allow fossil fuel companies to put profits over people, exacerbating the climate crisis and delaying a fair and just transition away from fossil fuel production that protects oil industry workers and frontline communities.
A progressive majority has voted to keep Newsom in office and protect young people’s futures. It is now up to the governor to prove he earned their votes and take meaningful climate action to prevent climate catastrophe and advance environmental justice.
As Newsom returns to the helm, we are calling on him to:
• Immediately stop issuing new fracking and toxic oil drilling permits and revoke fracking permits issued during the pandemic.
• Drop existing oil production through a fair and just transition that protects workers and front-line communities as we move toward a 100% clean energy economy on a timeline aligned with climate science.
• Roll out 2,500-foot health and safety setback distances between fossil fuel infrastructure and schools, homes and hospitals throughout California.
With a renewed progressive mandate, it is essential that the governor prioritizes people over polluters by ensuring a just transition away from fossil fuels and toward a more sustainable future for all Californians.
Nithya Raghunath, 17, is a resident of the East Bay Area, a team leader of Sunrise Bay Area and a co-coordinator of CA Youth Vs. Big Oil. She is a senior at American High School in Fremont.