As science becomes reality and the future bursts upon us, the debate on climate change is heating up. Newly empowered Democrats didn’t waste a week in the 116th Congress before launching climate hearings and introducing legislation. One proposal, an economic stimulus program called the Green New Deal is designed to eliminate carbon pollution by 2030 while addressing inequities. It has already generated over seventy Democratic co-sponsors. Not to be outdone, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately proposed a vote to undermine the legislation. There is no telling if this is a bluff or whether that strategy that will backfire if he actually follows through.
This political activity is being driven by a few things. Foremost is the widespread and accelerating impacts of climate change. Whether it’s record heat waves, frigid weather or sea level rise, every community in America is experiencing changing climate and weather patterns. It’s so severe we’re learning a new vocabulary to keep up with it all — polar vortex, atmospheric river, fire tornados, sunny day flooding, and megadroughts.
Then there are those plucky scientists — many thousands of them — sounding the alarm. Recent reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. 4th National Climate Assessment crystalize the devastating impacts from climate change to our health, economy, security, and nature itself. Headlines generated by the realities and the reports, things like “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN” and “Mass deaths and mayhem: National Climate Assessment’s most shocking warnings”, are terrifying. And they aren’t from the fringe, they’re from sources like CBS News.
The third force in the melee is the Democrats. As America has become ever more polarized along political lines, climate change has become the major wedge issue. Republicans see it as a political ploy for big government takeover — an existential threat to democracy. Democrats, meanwhile, are freaked out by the actual existential threat, and the unfairness of it all to young people, older people, disadvantaged communities, and everyone else. Recent polls indicate that it’s their number one or two issue in the upcoming primary and presidential elections.
And then there’s the biggest force of all — the American public. Rural and urban communities, corporations, and congregations, frontline advocates, students, health professionals — almost every demographic in every region in the nation are becoming more concerned and active on climate solutions. These folks, extraordinary Americans, will be the final arbiters of our future.
So now, today, the debate amongst sane and aware Americans is more about survival and solutions than it is about obvious facts. We’re in the endgame. It’s either massive change or massive catastrophe, now. That’s the potential (very) bad news and our current prospects. But the good news is overwhelming too.
On the technology front, the vast majority of new utility-scale energy being built in America and the world is clean. In transportation, it’s clear to everyone in the industry that fossil fuel cars are not competitive with electric cars — in cost, maintenance or performance. The planet has gone from unmeasurably few electric cars to millions, in just five years. And in another five years, electric cars will dominate the showrooms.
It’s more than just concerns about climate change that’s driving us toward a cleaner, more prosperous future — it’s the raw economics. Upfront and downstream, today and in the future, pollution has cost that makes it not competitive with clean industry. Unless you’re in the fossil fuel extraction business, fossil fuels are obsolete.
It’s now a race against time. If we can shift to 100% clean energy by 2030, we can look forward to an era of increasing natural bounty, economic prosperity, and personal and public health. If we shift by 2040, as many places like Europe are working toward, we have a fighting chance. If it’s 2050, well, maybe we should all just pray.
We can still certainly solve the climate challenge and look our children in the eyes and say we left them prospects for a better world than we actually had. At the very least, we can give them a reasonable chance at a reasonable future. We, all of us or as many of us who are awake and aware, need to act now.
Wherever you live, work, or learn — advocate for action. Make your immediate world 100% clean. Be an example to everyone around you. The impact of millions of ordinary Americans, who believe they can make a difference, will combine into a powerful force, one that’s big enough to overcome immoral fossil fuel interests that are sacrificing our fate and our children to their short-term profits.
We all need to be the solution, now.