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Ask an Activist: Hanna Mitchell
There are rising stars among us who are passionate about issues facing our community and who are taking action. For several weeks over this summer, we will profile youth activists in the Charlotte area who have turned their passion into action. Hear their story and discover your activist. After reading their story, tell us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: what you are passionate about? what can you do to affect change?
Meet Hanna Mitchel, Environmental Activist
What first inspired you to become an activist?
I went on my first march when I was 17. I met a lot of people and was exposed to ideas and theories of change that completely altered how I conceived of my place in the world. It seems simple, but all of a sudden I realized the power of people coming together, to unify their voices and get things done. I currently advocate for ways to create and distribute energy and cleaner air and water, which is particularly important to me because I have family members with asthma.
Why are you so passionate about energy issues?
I’m passionate about energy because of the confluence of many difference issues. The consequences of energy production and distribution have a profound impact on peoples’ lives. We all have to pay our energy bills every month—but many of us don’t know what we are paying for. Most of the energy for our electricity in this country still comes from coal which is a destructive substance, from extraction to combustion to waste storage. In North Carolina, we have over 30 coal ash dumps, storing millions of tons of toxic waste near our waterways. Many of these dumps leak, poisoning drinking water in surrounding communities. Furthermore, low income communities and communities of color disproportionately bear the impacts of burning coal—in fact almost 70% of African-Americans and 40% of Latinos live within 30 miles of coal fired power plants. Energy issues intersect with economic, environmental and social justice issues.
I firmly believe that people should not have to choose between keeping their lights on and having clean air and water—nor should they have to choose between paying their light bills and putting food on the table.
Why do you feel that youth activism is so important?
I know that youth activism is important because I’ve seen it work—from divestment campaigns to civil rights movements. I became involved with the Sierra Student Coalition when I was in high school and youth activism continues to inspire me. Young people may be led to believe that they have to “grow up” before they can make a difference or that their ideas are naïve. However, historically speaking, young people have been a strong component of national movements and social change.
If you could change one law in the state of NC right now, what would it be and why?
There are a lot of laws I would like to change, however the one I am most concerned about right now is the ban on the third party sale of electricity. North Carolina is one of just 4 states where it is illegal for customers to get electricity without going through the monopoly utility provider. This means that solar leasing options are illegal.
Overturning this ban would mean that anyone who wanted to get renewable energy (businesses, non-profit institutions, everyday people, etc) could do so by entering into a no-money-down agreement with a solar company. The company would own the panels and the customer would pay for the electricity that the panels produce—often at a rate that is cheaper than the utility.
Overturning the ban on third party energy sales would be a game changer for who has access to, and reaps the benefits from, cleaner and cheaper energy.
You are currently working on a coalition-effort to get more renewable energy for public schools. Can you tell us more about renewable energy and why it is so important?
Renewable energy is important because as utility rates for coal, gas, and nuclear energy continue to rise, renewable energy, like solar and wind, continues to get cheaper. We are in the middle of the renewable energy revolution which is a good thing for everyone who buys electricity and also for the energy job market. Already, there are more jobs nationally in solar than in coal mining. Renewable energy is also important because the best way to deal with air and water pollution—which exacerbates respiratory illnesses and other chronic diseases—is to not produce it in the first place. Renewable energy means cleaner air and water, healthier communities, and hedging against rate increases.
Can you tell us more about Repower Our Schools?
Repower Our Schools is a project that I help support to transition school systems in Charlotte and Durham to run on renewable energy, as a way for schools to save money on utilities and give students hands-on experience in 21st century technology. This is part of a larger national movement of schools and communities wanting renewable energy options. There are nearly 4000 schools nationally that use solar power and many of them may realize a savings of about a million dollars over 30 years. There are many different partners and stakeholders involved in Repower Our Schools and our long-term goal is to power Charlotte and Durham schools with 100% renewable energy.
About Hanna Mitchell
Hanna Mitchell is a Field Organizer with Greenpeace USA, based in Charlotte NC. She works with community activists, and partner organizations to advance local renewable energy options. Before moving to North Carolina, she was involved with student labor and environmental activism in New York and Maine, and trained students in community organizing skills through her work with the Sierra Student Coalition. Hanna grew up in Maine and graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies, concentrating on policy, from Bard College in 2013.