Opinion: Five Reasons We Might Succeed

Photo: slhy

Russ Vernon-Jones

Joe Biden and his new Administration have been taking excellent steps on climate very quickly. It’s very hopeful. At the same time, the magnitude of what must be done to prevent the worst effects of climate change is still staggering. It cannot be accomplished without major legislation, both federal and state. Massive public support demanding bold action on all fronts is needed to give us even a chance of success. We aren’t there yet.  

In December I wrote a post about the need to raise our climate targets to meet our international responsibilities. One of my readers, agreeing with my view, but despairing of ever getting sufficient support for needed actions, summed up her feelings with, “Aaargghhh!” She led me to write today’s post — some reasons to believe we can succeed.

Public Opinion
The views of the public continue to move more and more in support of climate action. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans favoring prioritizing renewable energy over coal, oil, and gas has gone from 47% in 2013 to 79% in 2020. Pew also found that two thirds of the population thinks the federal government should do more on climate. In the recent presidential election, Joe Biden — the candidate committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, who proposed to spend $2 trillion over the next four years on climate, who talks openly about tackling systemic racism, and is committed to being guided by science and public health — got 7 million more votes than the other guy.

Lessons From The Pandemic
While the failures of the U.S. in response to COVID–19 have been major and deadly, the pandemic has also revealed some important lessons. First, money can be found when it’s needed. By the end of March 2020 Congress had already voted more than $3 trillion to address the impact of the pandemic, with little debate about whether we could afford it. Second, most people can and will make significant changes quickly for the common good. Although they’ve been limited by a partisan divide, social distancing, staying home, and mask-wearing, while not universal, are widespread in a way that was unimaginable a year ago. If we had had good leadership, far more people would be taking these effective steps. Third, despite years of being lectured about government being the problem, the public has recognized and endorsed the idea that massive government action  — on vaccine development and distribution, for example — is needed when the problem is urgent enough. Each of these three lessons can help us deal with the climate.

Movements – Black Lives Matter, Indigenous Leadership, And Climate
Powerful people’s movements continue to grow in the United States and around the world. After the murder of George Floyd, some 26 million people in the U.S. poured into the streets to demand justice. Black Lives Matter activists led the way and were joined by allies of all races — likely the largest demonstrations in U.S. history. Millions more demonstrated in other countries. Much of the climate movement has come to understand that racism must be tackled simultaneously with climate change.

Indigenous people played key roles in the defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline. They are leading climate action — defending  their sovereign treaty rights, the Earth itself, and public health and safety. They and their white allies are waging vigorous campaigns against the Dakota Access pipeline and Line 3 in Minnesota. I recently learned more about this struggle at Stop Line 3, which includes a clear, brief video explanation by Winona LaDuke.

These movements are all challenging the current system that puts profits and the wealth of the few ahead of the welfare of the people and the planet. Dynamic, thoughtful leadership from Black people, indigenous people  and other people of color, women, trans people, and young people, is increasingly available for all of us to learn from and follow. There’s a place for each of us in these movements – joining local organizations,  letter writing, supporting campaigns, and sometimes protesting publicly.

Positive Financial Outlook
Globally, in the last decade the cost of solar energy has fallen 82%. Wind and solar energy are already less expensive than fossil fuels for new energy installations in most countries, including the U.S., and their costs are projected to continue to fall. Meanwhile, major banks and financial institutions are less and less willing to invest in fossil fuel production and are beginning to divest. While addressing climate change will be expensive, worldwide it will cost less than one-fifth of what it will cost us if we don’t limit global warming. The new  2020 report from the Drawdown project estimates that implementing the solutions they’ve identified to keep global warming to 1.5°C will likely cost $23.4 to $26.2 trillion, but will save $96.4 to $143.5 trillion. Furthermore, the actions we need to take for climate will create millions of new jobs and improve public health.

Commitment, Love, And Courage
The struggle to keep our planet livable will be a long and difficult one. We are joined in it by countless people around the world, taking action on the basis of their love for people, living things, and the natural world. Above I’ve mentioned a few of the signs of our potential to succeed, but the greatest reason for believing we can succeed is the commitment, love, and courage of people everywhere, including ourselves.

Russ Vernon-Jones was the Principal of Fort River Elementary School from 1990-2008.  He is a co-facilitator of the Coming Together Anti-Racism Project in the Amherst area.  He chairs the Racism, White Supremacy, and Climate Justice working group of Climate Action Now of Western Mass, and blogs regularly on climate justice at www.RussVernonJones.org.

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