Remarks by Vice President Harris in a Moderated Conversation on Climate
Rackham Auditorium, University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
2:19 P.M. EST
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yes, yes. Take it in.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Go blue! (Laughs.)
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Go blue! (Applause.) A crowd pleaser every time. (Laughter.)
All right, so I’m going to ask the first question, then we’ll bop — we’ll bop back and forth.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay. Let’s do it.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Excited to be able to have this.
So, Madam Vice President, you, obviously, have been a champion for climate change your whole career. When you were attorney general, you actually defended the Obama-Biden administration’s climate policies. I know, as a senator, you co-sponsored the Climate and Equity Act. Obviously, as Vice President, you’ve been championing climate change. We were just talking about a big meeting you had with climate advocates yesterday.
You have been such a fierce advocate at this moment when we have seen so many incredible bills passed — the Inflation Reduction Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act. What is — how are you thinking about this moment?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’m really excited. I really am. And for so many reasons that include what I’m looking at right now. I think that we are at one of the most incredible moments in this movement — a movement that, yes, we are a big part of, but you all are going to be leading for years and generations. And I’m so excited about it.
I think of this moment as a moment that is about great momentum, inspired by, yes, optimism; inspired by a crisis, no doubt; but inspired by also our collective ability to see what can be unburdened by what has been. And that’s critically important.
You know, I grew up the daughter of parents who marched and shouted for justice and freedom and civil rights. They were active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. And when they were marching and fighting, that was about understanding that we must be true to the fundamental principles and essence of who we say we are as a country and the principles upon which we were founded, which include the rights that all people should have to not only equality and justice and, by extension, freedom and liberty and dignity, but the ability of all people not only to succeed but to thrive.
And when I think about what we are doing, in terms of just what our administration has done, spurred by the activism and the courage and the demand by so many people who have been the activist and the advocates in this movement for — for years and years, I think about what it is going to do for our country and then, by extension, for the world because we will model, I think, some of the best of what innovation looks like at this moment. I’m very excited about it.
And you mentioned, Madam Secretary, who — and you are an extraordinary leader and a dear friend, and thank you — (applause) — for all of that.
Yes, please, can we give it up for your former governor? (Applause.)
But what we have been able to do through these bills — and I — you know, I can name the bills, but you don’t want to — you don’t really care about the names, do you? (Laughter.) But the fact is, collectively, what we have done in getting this work done in the last two years is going to be an investment of just about $1 trillion in the next decade. (Applause.) Coupling that with what we are encouraging, in terms of the private sector’s involvement; foundation, nonprofit involvement; community-based folks; and, of course, all of our folks who have been fighting for environmental justice and all that that means — it’s very exciting.
And, you know, I grew up in the Bay Area. I was born in Oakland, California — (applause) — and — okay, I knew there might be a couple here. (Laughter.)
But, you know, we — we grew up — I grew up with, you know, this whole activism around — then, it was about the Bay Area and “Save the Bay.” Grew up around folks who — you know, and we take great pride in California, with all due respect to Michigan, in — (laughter) — in being part of the birthplace of this movement.
And so when I think about the shoulders upon which we stand and where we have now arrived, I think we all should take note of the momentum that we have achieved and our responsibility now, sitting in these chairs in this moment, to then continue with this moment and lead and not waste a minute, because we don’t have a minute to spare. (Applause.)
MR. WHYTE: You know, Vice President Harris, this is an important point: that everybody can be part of this moment.
So I’m a professor of environmental justice, but I was drawn to the intersection of climate injustice because of who I am. As a member of a Tribal nation with deep roots in these lands and waters right here, Anishinaabe territory, I’m inspired to follow our traditions of environmental stewardship, our ecological knowledge, and our language.
Yet, when I moved to this area, I was horrified to learn that climate change was threatening the ecosystems that are the basis of the cultures, subsistence, and economies of Potawatomi and Anishinaabe people in Michigan, and that dangerous energy infrastructure, especially the proposal to continue the operation of the Line 5 pipeline — (applause) — was going to disrupt some of the most sacred places for Anishinaabe people, threatening livelihoods, violating treaty rights, and locking the state — this state — into a fossil-fuel-intensive energy future.
I have devoted my career to uplifting Indigenous solutions to climate change, working to make our knowledge heard, our visions respected, and our rights secured. And this is why I’ve been working hard at this critical juncture, where the administration is centering climate justice for Indigenous people in diverse communities nationwide. Your leadership is pivotal in the fight to end climate injustice, Vice President Harris.
I know your life experience has influenced your — your career. I heard what you just shared. So, how has your life experience shaped the way you approach work on climate?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Well, first of all, let me thank you, Professor, for your leadership, for your voice, and, in particular, being a voice of conscience for our nation. Because when we think about the issue around which we are convened today, there are so many facets to this. And, you know, there’s a lot about the way our administration has approached all our work that has been fueled by the importance of equity, which is a big — there’s a big difference between equality and equity. Right?
So, equality, well, everyone should get the same amount; that sounds right. But if the point of it is that so that the outcome will be fair, it doesn’t take into account that not everybody starts out on the same base. (Applause.) Right.
So, equity is for my life work, and for our collective work and responsibility, a big issue. And it is something that you’ve been a leader on. And in order for us to address and achieve equitable outcomes, we also have to be candid and clear about history, which is often, for some people, difficult to hear but must be spoken.
And so, I appreciate and thank you for the points that you have raised on this.
And, you know, my life experiences that I look at, for example, to your point about those who have been overlooked and left out in spite of their historical leadership on this issue. And so there is the work that we need to do to recognize that.
I also think about it, for example, in terms of what you said about the intersections and the intersectionality of this — the intersection between the issue of what we need to do around the climate crisis and the intersection between that and public health as an issue that is directly impacted by this.
And then when you look at public health inequities, you needn’t look very far to figure out who is affected most, usually by behaviors that they did not create. (Laughs.)
There is the issue of education and educational opportunity, much less the ability of children to thrive in terms of their educational pursuit when they are living in a community that has been a dumping ground by other people, when they have been subjected to asthma, when they are drinking water out of lead pipes. And what this then means in terms of the intersection between the work that we’re going to do on things like climate adaptation and resilience, and paying attention to the public health outcomes that disproportionately impact, in particular, low-income communities and communities of color.
So, the intersections must be front and center when we think about our movement, and always at our center must be the communities that are directly impacted.
I mean, I’ll give you another example that is in the context of world affairs and the global impact of all this as an extension of what we talked about in terms of equity.
I have now, as Vice President, met with 100 world leaders, at least, directly or by phone — presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, and kings. And I’d say at least 50 of them I’ve had this conversation with directly about the interdependence and interconnection between nations on these issues.
So, for example, I convened — and I’ve convened now at least three times — a group that has their acronym, CARICOM — it is the Caribbean nations — island nations in the Western Hemisphere; that is where the Caribbean is. We are also in the Western Hemisphere; they are our neighbors. And to use a colloquial kind of expression, you know, “We sneeze, and they catch a cold.”
So you think about who are some of the biggest emitters and who disproportionately is paying a price for that. So, the United States is one of the biggest emitters globally. And what you’re seeing happen in Caribbean nations is land erosion. You’re seeing extreme weather in terms of tornadoes and hurricanes, not to mention the other impact, which is that a large part of most of their GDP is based on tourism, which is directly impacted by extreme weather. And the reduction of tourism is a — is an outcome and an effect of extreme weather conditions.
And thinking about them — equitable principles, when we think about it from a global perspective, which is not only what do we have a responsibility to do as leaders within our own country, but globally. Let’s also keep in mind what we have a responsibility to do in relation to our neighbors and as a — as a function of also what we are doing to the globe as a whole.
So the points that you raise are, I think, critically important and must be at the forefront of any conversation we are having in this movement. (Applause.)
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: So good. (Laughter.)
I — you know, you’re talking about — we — we talk often; you talked on the campaign trail — about structural inequity or inequality.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Both.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Both. But the amazing part about, for example, the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is that it builds in repair.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: And by that I mean: For those of you who aren’t following this so closely — you get — if you’re a — if you are a business that is vying to get grants from the Department of Energy, for example, we rate your proposal based upon whether you have a community benefits agreement. And if you don’t, you are not going to — you know, you have — a lot of these are placed-based strategies, right? So you’re — you’re not going to be viable.
If you locate your factory in a community that — to manufacture solar panels or something where you can be part of this new clean energy economy, in a community that has been left behind and is seeking economic opportunity, you get an extra 10 percent tax credit.
If you use apprenticeship labor, you get another 10 percent. If you pay prevailing wage, you get another 10 percent. So you start off with a 30 percent tax credit, you add another 30 percent, and now you’re getting — it’s irresistible. It’s an irresistible way to address the structural inequity and inequality.
So, that, I know, fuels you. It fuels all of us who believe so strongly in the administration’s Justice40 Initiative. And so excited to be working with you on it.
Can I just switch quickly to technology? Because the Department of Energy is all about technology and what is the tech — what are the technology solutions. We’re all about deploy, deploy, deploy current technology, but we’re also looking to the future. And I want to know what excites you about, sort of, next-generation technology.
I love, you know, the clean hydrogen, based upon renewable energy, for example. Or I love enhanced geothermal. Why aren’t we pulling up the heat beneath our feet, which is a clean source of energy? Why aren’t we focused more on offshore wind, on floating platforms, or long-duration storage? That’s what the Department of Energy is focused on. I’m so excited about it.
And I’m wondering, for you, what is the technology that you are excited about? (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Wait, so I just have to tell you guys,
we convene Cabinet meetings with the President’s Cabinet, where we all sit around and have these meetings per- — a couple of times a year. She’s just like this in the Cabinet meetings. (Laughter and applause.)
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Right back at you, sister. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’s so good. It’s so good.
So much of that — I mean, how could you not be excited, especially if you listen to Jennifer Granholm? I — you know, what also excites me, when I — among the many things? I’m excited about electric school buses. (Applause.) I love electric school buses. I just love them for so many reasons. Maybe because I went to school on a school bus.
Raise your hand if you went to school on a school bus. Right? (Laughs.)
Electric school buses. So, 25 million children a day in America go to school on these diesel-fueled buses. And they are inhaling toxic fumes — the bus drivers, everyone who was in that educational ecosystem, the teachers, the — all of the people who are involved in those ecosystems.
So back to the point about intersectionality around the public health point and the education point, in terms of what that does and what it might do to impair a child’s ability to fully, you know, maximize their God-given capacity to learn because of the health impacts and maybe the lost days of school. Not to mention the other piece of the intersection, which is about U.S.-based manufacturing.
So I have now visited U.S.-based electric school bus manufacturers. And the great thing about it is that we’re making it right here. It is the creation of jobs.
Can we also give a shoutout to the absolute significance of the leadership of union labor on this point? (Applause.) Right? I am on a one-woman mission to visit as many IBEW locals as I can around our country. (Applause.)
I could go on and on about what those apprenticeships are, which are four-year, usually, tough-duty educational tracks.
And so these — this is one of the things I’m excited about — electric school buses — because, again, of the intersectionality.
And I do just, if I may, also want to just refer back to the last topic for a moment as an extension of your point, in terms of what this movement means about growing and strengthening America’s economy. So it’s about U.S. manufacturing; we just discussed that.
It is also about this: It is about the creation of new industries. We are building a clean energy economy. It’s new. It’s new jobs. It’s about saying, “Who’s going to do the training? See the IBEWs. See what’s happening here.” It’s about, “What are the jobs going to be?” Well guess what? The jobs, yes, are going to be electricians and it’s going to be pipefitters, and it’s going to be all of that. It’s also going to be, “Hey, we’re going to need HR specialists because these are new industries. We’re going to need comms folks who know how to communicate the importance of this work.”
Just about anything that the students here are studying will relate to and lift up this new movement and this new economy and an industry and approach that we are — we are pursuing.
And also, then, in terms of equity on the issue of economic benefit and strength, our administration, from the beginning, made a commitment that we would increase minority- and women-owned businesses getting federal contracts by 50 percent. (Applause.)
So, connecting the dots, we roughly estimate we’re putting about a trillion dollars into the economy on this. That’s just the federal government money.
Put into the equation that — I’m told Administrator Guzman, who heads up our SBA — Small Business Administration — that the vast majority of manufacturers in the United States are 25 employees or less. So we’re talking about small businesses.
What we are doing also in this movement, and I’ve been very excited about this piece of it also — is I’ve really been doing a lot, and we’ve been doing it together, around putting more investment into what we call CDFIs, which are basically community banks — community banks that are situated in the community, who know not only the culture of the community but know the capacity of the community, and are then, therefore, able to do access to capital for these small businesses to take on the federal contracts and the jobs — the manufacturing jobs, the other types of jobs that are going to be required to build this thing up.
So, again, when we think about the intersection between so many sectors, there are some areas that we might not think as being part of this movement, such as community banks, CDFIs. They are. And what that means in terms of also looking at long-overlooked communities around what they also want — not only public health, not only education systems that work for their kids, but access to capital. This could be profound.
I mean, back to, for example, Native communities. I — I have been working with a community bank that is focused on Native communities around small businesses there and understanding what the community wants and needs in terms of access to capital. It can have a huge impact.
So, all of this is on the table, and I’m very excited about it all.
MR. WHYTE: I wanted to shift our — (applause) — I wanted to shift our conversation to students and young folks —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
MR. WHYTE: — at the School for Environment and Sustainability at Michigan, in our Environmental Justice Graduate Program. (Applause.)
We really have the privilege to work with the most talented students. And they are all committed to serving the communities who are struggling with climate risk. The students are often looking for ways to get engaged. And one of my ideas has been, right now, we got to throw in to make sure that the new federal programs on climate count on the ground for the communities that they were intended to be about.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MR. WHYTE: And, shoot, right now, there’s the Justice40 Initiative. It’s the White House policy that 40 percent of the benefits of climate and other investments go directly to communities that face disadvantage. We have the new White House guidelines recognizing and including Indigenous knowledge.
And then — (applause) — yeah. (Laughs.) A game changer.
And when I talk to colleagues of mine in federal agencies, there’s new jobs coming — environmental justice jobs, new public participation opportunities. And we have the chance to make sure that Black, brown, and Indigenous communities are leaders in the energy transition. Leaders. (Applause.)
There’s huge potential to change lives right now. I could go on with way more examples.
What do you tell young folks, Vice President Harris, who are looking for how they can take action?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, they’re — in every — every way. In every way. I’ll repeat what I said earlier: Anything that you are doing right now in terms of your studies or your passion connects to this issue. Any and everything you are doing.
And, for example, on environmental justice: So I — when I — back when I was DA of San Francisco, I created one of the first environmental justice units of any DA’s office in the country. And I’ll tell you why.
There’s a community in San Francisco; it’s called Bayview Hunters Point. And then, and I do believe still, the average household income was about $15,000 — one-five. And that community — predominantly African American and, clearly, low income — was a dumping ground for people from other places. And I saw what was happening in terms of the health, in particular, of the children, but also the seniors in that community.
And so I said, “Look, you know, we got to deal with this in a way that’s also about accountability.” Right? Because in this space, there are also some bad actors.
When I was Attorney General, we went after some of the oil companies when there was a — talking about pipes — when there was, in Santa Barbara, a whole oil spill.
So when we think about this work, it is everything from what one might do to pay attention to the advocacy for communities, which includes the advocacy around letting the community tell us what they want, not us telling them what they need. (Applause.)
And that’s about reaching out and doing that work, which is to continue to acknowledge the leaders that are in those communities. That’s about the outreach that I know some of the students here are doing already here in this community.
It’s about the work that you can do to remind people of their rights. They have a right to clean water, to clean air. And it is a responsibility of their leaders to ensure that those rights exist. In that way, this is very much a civil rights fight.
And so, there is that kind of work.
There’s the work that we talked about, whether you are, you know, studying hospitality or engineering or communications, how that will relate to this work.
There is the work that is about letting people know what’s happening right now. There are a whole lot of people that don’t know what we’re talking about. They don’t know that the infrastructure bill, together with the Inflation Reduction Act, is going to put this money in communities. They don’t necessarily know — small business owners don’t necessarily know that they’re going to be entitled to apply for these contracts and that their community bank will assist them to know how — to help them apply for these contracts, and will also assist them with the financial — right? — fluency that they need to actually be able to qualify for them.
They’re the stories that, in particular, you as students, can uniquely tell, like through BeReal. (Laughter.) Come on. Right? To — you know BeReal. Well, you know what I’m talking about. (Laughs.) Right? Like, tell those stories. You — and Instagram. And tell the stories, talk with your peers, because the reality of it is that you all have such a charge to lead this movement, and you all have everything at stake.
And so, these are all of the various ways that you can do it — through your studies, through your activism, through talking to your friends and your relatives, through social media — to help people get excited about all the opportunities. This is going to open up in the midst of a crisis. And even if this crisis were not happening, which it is, it is about just a commitment that our nation and the world should always have to innovation and thinking about how we can be smarter.
When we look at the original people of America, what from the beginning our tribes and the native people of America have taught us about also the other extension of this, which is moral. It’s about what is just right — to honor and preserve this beautiful Earth that gives us so much in return.
So, there’s all kinds of things you all can do. (Laughter.) All kinds of things.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: By the way, the Department of Energy is hiring.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.)
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: We have a Clean Energy Corps.
Okay, I’ve got to get back on program. We are running a little bit late so I’m going to consolidate our final two questions here by saying, you know, what sets my hair on fire is the notion of deploying, deploying, deploying, and creating jobs all across America — all kinds of jobs for all kinds of people in all pockets of America.
I’m wondering — I know you’ve done work on the nexus between climate and environment and maternal health, and I know there are other areas that you are totally on fire about. What sets your hair on fire?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, so much of it. I — okay, so here’s the thing. Let’s talk about maternal health.
So, we have the — one of the, if not the, highest rate of women who are dying in connection with childbirth of any so-called “advanced” nation on the globe.
Black women are three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth. Native women, one and a half times more likely to die. Rural women, it’s about one and a half times more likely to die.
And, you know, when you look at the clear evidence and data — it’s not even anecdotal; it’s documented — in terms of, for example, a Black woman, it has nothing to do with her socioeconomic level or her educational level; it literally has to do with the fact that when she walks into a clinic or a hospital or an emergency room, she is not taken as seriously.
When you look at the issue, it is also about — and, again, this is about equity and always unpacking issues, instead of just looking at the data as though it is one-dimensional, it is also about recognizing that what also contributes to these outcomes, these horrendous outcomes, is that there are certain women and certain populations that are exposed to unique stressors.
For example, poverty is trauma inducing. (Applause.) Right? When we think about this in terms of, then, the intersection between an issue like maternal mortality and extreme climate, you just — you can look at, for example, the data that tells us that some of the regions in America with the poorest air quality are low-income communities and communities of color. When you look at rates of asthma, you see correlations. When you look at which communities are suffering most in terms of extreme weather and therefore need to evacuate, you can see a correlation.
So what does that mean for someone who is — who is pregnant? And what does that mean in terms of to suddenly have to evacuate or to be concerned that they have to figure out “Where are the sandbags?” or to figure out that there’s, you know, wildfire because of drought, because in the community in which they live, the resources are not there to give them the water that they need.
So, there is a real intersection here.
Again, if you think about the public health implications of the climate crisis and then what that means on an issue like maternal mortality, there is a correlation.
And — and, in that way, I will also then say, think of the movement through the lens of something I love, which is to always think about complex issues through the frame of a Venn diagram. I love Venn diagrams. I lo- — (laughter and applause) — I do. I love Venn diagrams. So —
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: See what I’m saying? She is nerdy. I’m just saying.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.) So, the three circles — and you can do more. Nobody says a Venn diagram has to only been three circles, right? And — and the intersection then — right? — in terms of, also, movements.
So the climate movement with the movement that is about civil rights and justice, because, also, there’s a correlation between this and an issue like voting rights. Look at it around the issue of bodily autonomy and the right of all people to make decisions about their own bodies and not have their government tell them what to do. (Applause.) The intersection between that and all that we must do to fight for LGBTQ rights that are under attack across America. (Applause.)
And do the Venn diagram on it, which is — (laughter) — no, I’m serious. Take a look at where and who is attacking these things, who’s pushing back against what we need to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in climate-smart policy.
Look at — look at it and you will see a profound picture of the intersection around also where it’s coming from and, therefore — and so this is the thing that gives us, then, the good thing, which is the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to coalition building, bringing the communities together — communities and fights and movements that seemingly have nothing in common but have everything in common.
In the midst of a time in our country where there are so many so-called powerful people, so-called leaders who are trying to divide our country and spread and spew hate, one of the most powerful things we can do is build coalition to remind people they are not alone in that we are in this together. (Applause.)
Right? And so let’s seize this opportunity. It’s profound. And it’s fun. (Laughter.) It’s fun to do this work. It’s good work.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Woo!
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Woooo! (Applause.)
So, with that, are you good?
MR. WHYTE: I’m good.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: All right, you’re good. You good?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’m good. I’m good.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Are you good? (Applause.) All right! Give it up for Vice President Kamala Harris! (Applause.)
END 2:55 P.M. EST