In February 2020, we co-founded the Chicago Area Peace Action (CAPA) chapter at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). CAPA is affiliated with Peace Action, the largest grassroots peace organization in the United States, and is primarily focused on tackling the climate crisis in a socially and economically just way and pushing for foreign policy reform.

Similarly, CAPA UIUC is dedicated to pushing for common sense and necessary solutions to the climate crisis- specifically within Illinois- as well as fighting for racial and economic justice. We wrote this article through a collaborative group effort to shed light on the climate crisis, our idea of what comprehensive climate justice looks like, and how we can get there.

Illinois needs a way to address the environmental challenges of the twenty-first century by pushing for clean energy employment opportunities and supporting clean energy infrastructure while minimizing reliance on fossil fuels. The State must find a way to provide new opportunities for workers to become re-trained and take advantage of jobs in clean energy, ensuring that the transition to clean energy will benefit people of every socioeconomic background.

Neighborhoods with high populations of minority and low-income residents are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards such as exposure to air and water pollution and toxic waste. These communities must be built up with a focus on areas that have experienced environmental injustices and paving the way toward a just transition to clean, renewable energy.

People in Illinois should have the opportunity to take advantage of clean energy technologies and create energy stability in the long term by transitioning to a renewable energy-based economy by 2050. The State could do this by installing more than 40 million solar panels and 2,500 wind turbines by 2030 and cutting the equivalent of 1 million gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles from the road through the expansion of vehicle electrification.

There is an initiative that could achieve these objectives, and CAPA UIUC ) is working  to enhance awareness of the need for clean energy and economic advantages that embracing this concept can bring to the state.

Furthermore, CAPA UIUC is not only dedicated to pushing for these objectives to tackle the climate crisis, but also achieving these goals through a comprehensive approach that adheres to the insights of intersectional environmentalism and the present state of the world in which we live. The truth is that none of us can effectively tackle the climate crisis without addressing other injustices like systemic racism and economic inequality as well as the politically hyperpolarized environment that is corroding public trust in our institutions and planting seeds of discord, all of which sustain and interact with environmental injustices.

But this reality is also hopeful, as it means that the only way we can create positive change is by uniting with people of all different backgrounds and beliefs and engaging in candid conversations with them about the stark reality of the world we will live in. We cannot just cluster in our own groups and engage with those that affirm our own beliefs- either digitally or in the real world.

And this is where peace and conflict resolution come in, as CAPA UIUC is first and foremost a group dedicated to pursuing the ideal of positive peace.

A world embracing the virtues of positive peace would not only be devoid of wars, but also would be rid of structural violence, or the institutional racism and systematic economic oppression that have sustained the climate crisis.

Yet the only way this idealistic, peaceful world would not fall back into violence would be if its constituents were able to engage in conflict resolution, engaging in meaningful conversations without demonizing the other side. And a peaceful world can be created if everyone understands that each and every one of us has something valuable to offer, and if we work together to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.

We at CAPA UIUC understand this and have decided to remain nonpartisan to stress our desire to encourage people of all political beliefs and backgrounds to join. We are committed to following the principles of peaceful activism to tackle the climate crisis, racism, and economic inequity in a way that values everyone’s input. One way in which we do this is by engaging in initiative-based activism, where everyone sets the agenda and can organize their own events with the help of their groupmates. We also are working on creating partnerships with other student organizations who can offer us an additional perspective on different aspects of the climate crisis and social injustice. Because we can effectively tackle the climate crisis in an intersectional way, as long as we are united.

To all youth readers: you are the future. It is our duty to advance climate justice and dismantle the systemic injustices that occur within our communities. More and more young people are inspired by the bravery of youth climate activists in national and global climate movements and are translating bold ideas of justice into action, spearheading the fight for climate justice to save Mother Earth.

One simple and powerful way to fight for climate justice is by voting: It is essential. Additionally, it is important to engage with your elected officials, make your voice heard as you advocate for climate justice, and hold them accountable to you, the voter. Finally, it is essential that you engage in conversations with people from “the other side.” You might find that we all have much more in common than we might think.

We cannot accomplish this alone. We all are in this together, and we ask all generations to consider the cataclysmic future awaiting us, our children and grandchildren if we do not act.

Please contact us at capa.uiuc@gmail.com to connect with us or for more information about our specific campaigns!

Andrew White, Shannon Parkhurst and Sophie Duran from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also contributed to this article.