Desperation to Determination
On Saturday morning just before noon, I was lucky to be driving less than two blocks from the White House when we heard the first happy horn. It took my wife Lisa maybe six seconds to suspect what was up. “Turn on the radio,” she said. A moment later our windows were down, our hands out the window, our horn blaring too.
“Drive around the White House,” Lisa said. I made it down 15th street, past the mall, up 17th to the Renwick Gallery, where we stopped for a photo opp while the DC police shooed us away. The place was already up for grabs. “Let’s go home and get bikes,” she said. Driving north on Connecticut, less than 15 minutes since the announcement, the inbound lanes were already blocked with people cheering, already with a police escort.
That’s pretty much the way it was across America — celebrations. I literally felt a weight of desperation fall from my shoulders. So much has already been written about a return to honesty, decency, responsibility, empathy, and hope for all of us in the United States and around the world. A lifting of the anxiety and fear the Trump administration spread daily for four years. Republican or Democrat, conservative or progressive or independent, we all felt that fear.
Lisa and I went home to get our respective bikes. Lisa rode to the Washington Monument, a great place to view the White House. I wrote a quick note of thanks to ecoAmerica’s staff, board, and a few key supporters, and then headed northwest for a quick 40-mile ride.
Lisa says bike riding is my meditation. Maybe. It certainly gives you time to refresh and think. This is what I thought, “We have a chance.” “We have a chance.” It was quite a powerful and empowering thought. If you too have been watching our planet and people suffer the early and already devastating effects of climate change with a steadily increasing sense of finality and desperation, that burst of hope is almost blinding.
My gasps turned to deep breaths as I rode beyond the stoplights and stop signs into the farmlands of western Montgomery County. It was quiet out there. Little traffic. No horns.
As I headed back into the city, I started thinking about next steps. There is no doubt that we can solve the climate emergency and move forward into a future with thriving nature, shared prosperity, and positive synergy amongst all cultures of America. RethinkX just came out with their “Rethinking Energy 2020-2030” report. The conclusion:
“Our analysis shows that 100% clean electricity from the combination of solar, wind, and batteries (SWB) is both physically possible and economically affordable across the entire continental United States as well as the overwhelming majority of other populated regions of the world by 2030.”
This is consistent with observable reality. Over the past few years as we’ve watched the dramatic decline of the fossil fuel industry and the rapid rise of clean energy. The coal industry, the vaunted natural gas industry, and even the liquid fuels industries are rapidly going out of business. They all require massive subsidies to operate, even then largely unprofitably. The years and decades of investment by clean energy advocates are paying off.
My confidence that we can solve the climate emergency has been matched by the frustration that we haven’t. We know now that the fossil fuel and automotive industry have known for decades the destructive power of C02 on our atmosphere and planet. Not only did they not take action to stop the destruction, they profited from it, lied, and financed other liars throughout this time to protect their profits.
We have more than competitive technologies. We have attractive policies. COVID-19 has shown us that we can come up with the money and act at scale, globally, to address a problem. What we have lacked to offset the criminal misinformation and financial wherewithal of the fossil fuel industry is the public support and political will for the necessary solutions. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” Or as Katharine Hayhoe has said, “The most important thing you can do about climate change is talk about it.”
Everyone who is working on climate change, everyone who cares about climate change needs to embed this concept into everything they do. Live your values by your example. Spend 25% of your budget on public awareness. We need much greater ambition in our climate solutions. People think and work as part of tribes. Find the climate leaders and spokespeople in your social groups, and support and empower them. That’s what we do at ecoAmerica.
There is one other truism that we need to address if we want to restore thriving nature to our planet, and that is justice. As Meighen Speiser and I wrote last June, “The climate, public health, economic, democratic, and racial crises we are living in are intertwined, rooted in systemic injustice. This is not a coincidence. There is a concentration of power and wealth amongst a tiny elite that does not invest in or care about public education, public health, equal opportunity, or equal rights but rather amasses more power as they justify inequities and oppression in America and worldwide.” Could there be a better description of the fossil fuel industry?
There are some that say that solving climate change involves trade-offs — everything from poverty in Africa to the destruction of jobs and the economy in the United States. You can probably find these negative synergies, but it’s much easier to find positive synergies. There are proposals, like ARCHES (American Recovery for Climate, Health, and Economic Stability) that multi-solve climate with other issues, that are very attractive to conservatives as well as progressives. That’s the kind of logic we need to focus on in order to make climate progress.
OK, back to the moment. We’ve cleared a major gating issue with the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who have said all the right things about climate change. It’s our job now to support ambitious climate action that actually solves the problem, not any half measures. We need to replace desperation with determination now. Let’s have at it.
Bob, thank you for your insightful thoughts.