Time to Fight for Our Climate Future

Time to Fight for Our Climate Future

Having just finished a walk in the coppery sunlight, I take off my breathing mask. Deadly fires burn hundreds of miles away but still reach into my lungs. In our new world, a record-breaking extreme weather event strikes somewhere each month, decimating people’s lives, smashing infrastructure and disrupting local economies.

And it is going to get worse. Not because Al Gore or “lefties” say so, but because the physics of climate – understood since the 19th Century – make it so.

When we have smoke in our lungs, floodwaters around our knees, or witness towns destroyed by quickly-intensifying hurricanes or fires, the need to reduce our dependence upon fossil fuels becomes visceral. Dread builds in our hearts as fires burn, drought endures, and our children worry about their future and the morality of bringing children of their own into ecological upheaval.

It did not have to be this way. Every President since Lyndon Johnson has been warned that carbon pollution will cause climate change. Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House in 1978 and announced a goal for the U.S. to get 20% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2000. Ronald Reagan abandoned this goal and had the solar panels removed. Since then, approximately half of all human emissions of carbon dioxide have occurred, and now we sit with our smartphones, our SUVs and our dread.

There is a path to a safer future, but it’s now much more difficult to travel than when President Carter first acted. While science tells us we have to stop powering our economy with fossil fuels, it also shows how we can do so. Enough solar energy strikes our planet in an hour to power our civilization for a year, and the International Energy Agency concluded enhanced energy efficiency alone could achieve 40% of the emissions cuts needed to meet climate targets.

Technological progress can help us. The price of wind and solar power has dropped precipitously, and researchers are working to reduce the cost of nuclear power, develop more advanced batteries, improve the efficiency of the electric grid, reduce carbon emissions from cement manufacturing and develop methods for removing carbon from the atmosphere.

This safer future also promises good jobs and improved public health. Wind power service technician and solar PV installer are the fastest growing job classifications in the U.S. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate concluded that low-carbon growth could deliver $26 trillion of benefits by 2030, generate over 65 million new jobs and avoid 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution when compared to the business-as-usual fossil-fueled economy. The commission is likely underestimating the benefits to be derived from decarbonization, leading to discussions of a Green New Deal for America.

With the political will to reallocate resources we can create great change; such a resource reallocation helped us win World War II. Creating this political will requires courageous and visionary leadership to channel our dread into immediate and sustained action.

Yet I watch in horror as the President and the Republicans provide cowardice and falsehood, cowering behind a misinformation campaign that continues to be waged by the fossil fuel industry, including the Koch brothers and their mouthpieces on Fox News. These global villains sell the idea of the fossil fuel economy as unchangeable, thereby maintaining their profits and power. In response to the sobering consensus analysis on climate impacts from 13 federal agencies, they peddle ridiculous conspiracy theories while the President says he “doesn’t believe” his own administration’s scientific findings.

Despite this lack of leadership, we have the power to influence our destiny. Our kids’ world will be the one we choose and fight for today. I’ve committed to reducing my carbon footprint by changing food and transportation choices, improving the energy efficiency of my home, advocating for climate-smart policies like clean energy standards and a price on carbon and supporting candidates and elected officials who recognize our existential challenge.

If I ever have grandchildren, I may need to lift my breathing mask to kiss them. But at least they’ll know Grandpa fought for their future.