Vice President Kamala Harris champions action on climate change at Georgia Tech

Vice President Kamala Harris talks about climate change at Georgia Tech on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Fresh off the president’s State of the Union speech and with a likely re-election bid on the horizon, Vice President Kamala Harris flew to Atlanta on Wednesday to deliver a message on climate change. She called it “one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

“The clock is not just ticking, it’s like banging,” Harris told an audience at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center for the Arts. “It’s requiring us to move quickly, but there’s so much to be excited about in terms of what we can do.”

Harris touted the Biden Administration’s efforts to combat climate change, including billions of dollars for climate-focused initiatives through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

The vice president focused on incentives to speed up the adoption of electric vehicles, a growing industry in Georgia, and new funding to replace the lead pipes and service lines that have tainted drinking water in cities like Flint, Michigan, and Jackson, Mississippi. 

Harris framed action on climate change not only as imperative to the future of the planet but also in the fight against racial and economic injustice.

“Let’s just jump in it,” she said, “but do it in a way that is inclusive and that we are asking the communities that are affected to lead and not telling them what we are going to do for them.”

“This is not about polar bears,” said University of Georgia professor Marshall Shepherd, who helped moderate the conversation with Harris.  “I like polar bears, they’re cute, but this is about kitchen table issues that affect lives in Oakland, California, and Canton, Georgia, and Nashville, Tennessee.” 

With the State of the Union address and the travel that’s following it, President Biden and Harris are looking to re-focus voters on their wins over the last two years. Biden’s job approval numbers have remained cool amid persistent inflation. But Democrats’ ability to do more on climate and other issues will be hamstrung by a newly-divided government, with Republicans now holding a narrow majority in the House.

But on Wednesday, Harris told students in the audience that they are ahead of the curve on climate change, and that makes her feel optimistic.

“The benefit you have is you’re not burdened by any question of ‘Is this real?’ That’s great because we’ve been having to deal with some folks who literally…  like, have you looked at the window?” Harris told the audience, which erupted in laughter.

Young people were key to Biden’s 2020 victory, and so was Georgia. It will be a critical battleground in 2024.