AFT Resolution

Declaring a Climate Emergency and Developing Climate Action and Healthy Building Plans

WHEREAS, climate change is a human-caused crisis brought about by the burning of fossil fuels, resulting in extreme heat waves, torrential rainfalls, savage hurricanes, colossal flooding, massive wildfires that spread smoke across vast areas, increased infectious disease outbreaks, rising sea levels and pollution―all of which are wreaking havoc on our planet and our daily lives; and

WHEREAS, this worsening worldwide climate catastrophe can only be dealt with if we act fast, making deep cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases by transitioning away from the use of fossil fuels to limit rising temperatures and avoid unmanageable and unpredictable economic and social consequences; and

WHEREAS, most facilities are wholly inadequate to protect our students and workers from blistering heat waves, wildfires, smoke, flooding and unhealthy indoor air, which threatens their physical and mental health and results in increased pupil absences, schoolwide closures, worsening illness, increased incidents of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and decreasing academic performance; and

WHEREAS, multiple studies show that without infrastructure updates, especially in low-income school districts, the impact of climate change on learning outcomes will be disastrous; and

WHEREAS, children also suffer from fear and anxiety related to the effects of climate change they see and experience―wildfires, smoke, heat domes and hurricanes―which impairs their readiness to learn; and

WHEREAS, these impacts on children directly correlate with their ability to enroll in the college or university of their choice, and is determinative in their success at these institutions, thereby worsening their long-term economic situation; and

WHEREAS, climate impacts on children and young adults worsen the pressures on all facets of the healthcare system in the United States, from primary care to behavioral health care; and

WHEREAS, buildings—residential, municipal and commercial—are responsible for 30 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions; K-12 schools by themselves emit 42 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually; and the U.S. healthcare system contributes 8.5 percent of emissions, with hospitals making up an estimated 36 percent of these emissions; and

WHEREAS, investments in climate-adaptive school infrastructure can safeguard students’ health and be essential investments in student learning and achievement; school buildings can serve as adaptive resources for communities not only for social support but also as physical shelters and cooling centers within neighborhoods; and

WHEREAS, colleges and universities can undertake and expand research into mitigating the impacts of the climate crisis, while also serving as laboratories for new green technology advances and training centers for green job training; and

WHEREAS, hospitals in many rural areas face dire economic situations exacerbated by COVID-19, and investment in green technologies is crucial for their survival; and

WHEREAS, President Biden’s clean energy programs, passed with the AFT’s help, provide hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years to transition the country to clean energy, including new funds for state and local governments, hospitals and nonprofits to renovate facilities, provide cooling, fund clean energy transitions, save money and create millions of new jobs; and

WHEREAS, the president’s clean energy plan has unleashed a clean energy boom across the United States, in small towns and big cities, putting the country on a pathway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030; and

WHEREAS, even with the successful launch of Biden’s clean energy program, the United States still needs to close the gap between projected emissions reductions coming from the Inflation Reduction Act and the 50 percent reduction the United States promised by 2030 to stay on track for a 1.5 degree Celsius target preventing global disaster in line with its UN Paris Agreement commitment; and

WHEREAS, the AFT is a union of educators, healthcare professionals and public employees structured to advance real solutions to strengthen education, healthcare and public services so that students, parents and communities can thrive and the patients we serve can heal; and

WHEREAS, the members of the AFT across the country are organizing themselves by volunteering to participate in actions to speed up a reasonable transition to clean energy; and

WHEREAS, climate change becomes more solvable if the AFT demands that more school districts, colleges, universities and hospital employers use Biden’s clean energy credits, grants and rebates to improve old facilities, making them more energy efficient and carbon-free, raising student performance, improving the health of all citizens and lowering U.S. emissions:

RESOLVED, that the AFT urgently demands that President Biden take bold action by declaring a national climate emergency and working to build a robust, just and regenerative energy system; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will bring together AFT leaders and district/city/employer teams, at the earliest time and place practicable, to discuss and develop model clean energy and healthy building climate action plans specific to employers―local government, school districts, colleges, universities and hospitals―to access the new federal resources; and

RESOLVED, that such plans will advocate that states and municipalities use President Biden’s clean energy and infrastructure program funds to do their part to mitigate and prepare for the unfolding climate crisis, with plans including such items as retrofitting and weatherizing, remediating facilities for toxic substances, installing energy efficient systems, integrating climate justice curriculum, implementing sustainable practices to reduce carbon footprint, and supporting green careers through training and education for students and communities; and

RESOLVED, that such plans will also be rooted in community needs and include input from students, parents, local administrative leaders, appropriate green and union allies, and diverse community representatives.


Adopted October 3, 2023