More than 200 young people across Indiana took to the Statehouse Tuesday to discuss the state’s need for climate action with elected officials.
They were there to participate in Youth Climate Action Day, an event designed to give students a voice within the Statehouse while educating them about the political process.
Democratic State Rep. Carey Hamilton, the event’s organizer, said she was inspired to create the event after seeing a climate strike on the south lawn of the Statehouse in September.
Now invited into the Statehouse, young people were able to share their concerns with state representatives, learn how to craft letters to elected officials and witness the Statehouse in action.
Some in attendance were Purdue students. Silenze Esquivel Benjamin, a senior in the College of Agriculture who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, attended the event and said their interactions with policymakers were encouraging.
“It was a really nice thing to have representatives invite youth to come in and to speak with their representatives about what they’re passionate about, what they believe in and what they’re worried about in terms of climate change, in terms of sustainability,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin said they were able to speak with both of their representatives, Democratic Representative Chris Campbell and Republican Senator Ron Alting, and thought both had promising ideas about climate change regardless of political party.
Attendees also learned about some of the legislative action currently being taken at the state level.
Hamilton recently authored a House resolution concerning the protection and conservation of Indiana’s natural heritage, which Hamilton called a climate resolution.
The resolution discusses effects of climate change on Indiana’s agriculture and air quality, areas outlined by Purdue researchers in an Indiana climate change impact assessment.
“The resolution is based on science out of Purdue,” Hamilton said. “I relied heavily on research from the Purdue Climate (Change) Research Center.”
The resolution would establish a task force to identify areas where Indiana could attempt to mitigate effects, such as growing the state’s clean-energy manufacturing sector and increasing the number of electric vehicles on Indiana roads.
“As a manufacturing state, we should be working hard to attract clean car components manufacturing, solar and wind component manufacturing, and we’re just not doing that,” Hamilton said. “So there’s a huge economic opportunity that we’re missing.”
The resolution does not include a specific greenhouse gas emission-reduction goal, but instructs the task force to develop renewable energy targets.
Other bills on the floor also had the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state.
House Bill 1227 repeals the supplemental fee placed on electric or hybrid vehicles and House Bill 1228 extends net metering — a renewable-energy incentive that credits owners of energy systems for the electricity they produce — for new customers beyond the current 2022 cutoff.
Hamilton also proposed legislation to increase what’s called climate resilience, or the ability to anticipate and prepare for hazardous events related to climate.
“These big rain events are hitting the Midwest like crazy, and they’re very damaging for communities that don’t have the infrastructure to handle that stormwater,” Hamilton said.
Research conducted by the PCCRC predicts that by the middle of the century, Indiana will experience 6% to 8% more rainfall than it averaged in the recent past, with heavy rain events becoming more common.
Proposed House Bill 1415 focuses on improving stormwater management across the state as an adaptation to these changes.
Hamilton said she thinks the biggest obstacles for climate action in the state are special-interest groups like the coal and utility lobbies.
“The power of the coal lobby and the power of the utility lobby, in particular, has really hampered moving forward on clean energy,” Hamilton said.
Benjamin said they think further climate action in the state has to come from a grassroots movement to occur.
“It needs to come from a bottom-up approach,” they said. “We need to get communities with those representatives that are avidly against these (climate) bills to start shifting their paradigm.”
For Benjamin, climate change is a personal issue. They have already seen the sea level rising in their childhood home of Costa Rica, saying a beach they visited as a child is now mostly underwater.
“Climate change is going to affect everyone in some way or another,” Benjamin said. “And us students at Purdue and people younger than us really need to start paying attention to this, and really need to start acting and speaking up about it because time is running out.”