Americans are waking-up to the existential threat posed by climate change. Polling shows concern about global warming spiking among Americans while Democrats push the ambitious Green New Deal. Remarkably, surveys indicated strong support for key components of the Green New Deal, even among Republicans, when it was introduced in December 2018. Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee is running for president on a climate change platform, and the CBS’s 60 Minutes featured the Juliana “climate kids” lawsuit. Doubtless this is in response to the dire urgency of the climate crisis and creates hope and opportunity for saving our Earth.
The latest climate change science is grim. Global warming is happening faster and thus is far more advanced than previously thought. The current heat retention from greenhouse gases is estimated to be the equivalent of 400,000 nuclear bombs (the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima) exploding every day. A 2016 Scientific American article states that oceans have absorbed 93 percent of this heat, otherwise the atmospheric temperature would have risen an unimaginable 97 degrees Fahrenheit. The laws of physics are real and immutable.
Over the past 542 million years, there have been at least five mass extinctions, and they all closely corresponded with sudden increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and ocean acidity. Atmospheric CO2 is rising one hundred times faster than any previous natural increase and oceans are acidifying faster than anytime in the last 300 million years. We are either at the beginning of or in the midst of the sixth mass extinction.
The current concentration of atmospheric CO2 has historically led to an increased temperature of 7 degrees Celsius, which could happen before the end of the century. Such a temperature increase would be beyond catastrophic, as vast regions of the Earth would become uninhabitable.
The good news is that if we act quickly and decisively, the worst outcomes from climate change can probably be avoided. The only way to save our Earth is to rapidly reduce greenhouse gasses, as outlined in the Green New Deal (HR 109). We can then resume our role of global leadership, convincing the rest of the world to follow suit. We have no choice.
The struggle also involves environmental justice. We must ensure that minorities, indigenous communities, working people and those who live in rural areas do not bear an inordinate burden of the cost of the transition from fossil fuels.
Critics of the Green New Deal offer intense resistance, saying it is too expensive and unrealistic. It is the climate deniers, however, including our president and 150 members of Congress (all Republicans) who are seriously deluded, living in a fantasy world deep in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry. They insist it is too expensive to save our planet, which is not only absurd, but untrue. An investment switching over to clean energy now could save as much as $26 trillion do by the year 2030. Legitimate criticism says our current levels of consumption are simply unsustainable, even with clean energy, and the Green New Deal will not solve all our environmental problems.
The Green New Deal will pass if ordinary Americans heed the call to mobilize like we did in World War II; it is a global emergency. In addition to working with our elected officials, we can go to rallies, lectures, workshops, marches and protests. We can talk to our friends and neighbors and dialogue with those who disagree with us. The 350 Eugene Calendar and other progressive sites offer climate-focused events, usually several times a week. We can enrich our lives while finding the courage to leave our comfort zones and do something truly extraordinary.
Historical research by Erica Chenoweth, political scientist and professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, tells us that is only takes 3.5 percent of the citizens in a country engaged in active and sustained non-violent resistance to change any but the most ruthless government. Trump may veto the Green New Deal but we the people have the power. The Green New Deal is right in front of us, we just have to reach out and grab it.
Chuck Areford is a retired mental health professional. has been a Eugene resident for 30 years and volunteers with 350 Eugene.