A Year of Resistance—and Why I’m Hopeful for 2018
Union of Concerned Scientists / Audrey Eyring
By Rachel Cleetus
What a year it's been. The destructive antics of the Trump administration and Congress and a political discourse increasingly polluted by "alternative facts" have frequently made many of us angry, sad and sometimes just plain crazy.
Through it all, it's been inspiring to see a resistance movement gather strength and show its muscle. I've been awed by the work of racial justice activists, scientists, grassroots groups, immigrant rights groups, youth groups and many many others. Here's a snapshot of what a year in the resistance looked like for me.
The Women's March (one of the largest protest marches ever, coordinated across the nation and globally), held a day after President's Trump's inauguration (with its less-than-record attendance), showed where the true power of the people lies.
Like many of you, I joined the march with my family. Watching my kids (in their pink hats, of course) experience the crowds, point out their favorite signs, raise their voices in call-and-response chants—all of it gave me a thrill to think that a new generation was beginning to understand the power of peaceful protest in a democracy.
In courts across the nation, including in Hawaii, Washington, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Maryland, there were immediate challenges filed to President Trump's terrible "Muslim Ban" executive order issued at the end of January.
As an immigrant myself, it was especially moving to join a large and diverse crowd of people marching in protest in Boston, and to see similar protests nationwide. At many major airports teams of lawyers also flocked in to offer pro bono assistance to travelers affected by the ban. (The Supreme Court has since allowed a modified version of the ban to go ahead but this is by no means the last word since it is still being litigated).
We called out Scott Pruitt's lies on climate change, held the administration accountable on its rollback of protective health standards including an all-out attack on climate policies, and we urged Congress to resist harmful cuts to the EPA budget (and succeeded in fending off some of the most damaging cuts).
The March for Science March and the Peoples Climate March were the highlights of April. It was magnificent to join the throngs of people marching for climate, jobs and justice on that sweltering hot day in Washington DC. More importantly, we are building a movement that is about more than just that one day.
President Trump's destructive first budget proposal was shown up to be all bark and no bite since Congress actually controls the purse strings. We campaigned against the many awful elements of the Trump budget proposal, including cuts that would harm our nation's ability to prepare for climate and extreme weather disasters and cuts that would gut the EPA. (Harmful budget cuts are an ongoing threat. It's critical for constituents to continue to urge their policymakers to resist deep cuts to agency budgets that jeopardize the health and well-being of Americans).
"We are still in!" declared states, cities, counties, tribes, businesses, investors, faith groups, colleges and universities, in prompt response to President Trump's shameful announcement that he intended to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement.
One of the most satisfying ways to resist the madness wrought by this administration is to just carry on doing good science. In July, my colleagues and I released a new report, When Rising Seas Hit Home: Hard Choices Ahead for Hundreds of U.S. Coastal Communities. The report highlights the threat of chronic coastal inundation exacerbated by sea level rise, and is accompanied by a fantastic online mapping tool.
Its findings challenge us to work toward solutions at the national, state and local level. Frontline communities facing these risks need help—and this should not be a partisan issue.
The nightmare hurricane season of 2017 unfolded in August and September, bringing Harvey, Irma and Maria. Houston, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands suffered particularly devastating impacts. Groups like Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, an Environmental Justice organization in Houston, rallied to call attention to urgent needs.
My colleagues and I wrote about the flood threats in Houston, especially the risks from toxic pollution and the need to keep environmental justice front and center in the recovery process. We also laid out the science of hurricanes and climate change, and called on Congress to take action to help devastated communities.
And, yes, we also pointed out the irony of the Trump administration's rollback of the federal flood risk management standard just a week before Harvey hit. And the how damaging the administration's proposed budget cuts to FEMA and HUD, key agencies for our nation's disaster response, would be.
Market trends, state policies and federal tax incentives continued to drive a historic transition away from coal to cleaner forms of energy, despite the EPA's announcement that it would repeal the Clean Power Plan, the nation's first-ever limits on power plant carbon emissions. We called out Administrator Pruitt's cynical move to pander to fossil fuel interests while blatantly ignoring the EPA's mission to protect human health and the environment.
Terrible wildfires raged across Northern California, killing 44 people and causing billions of dollars of damage. Sadly, another example of how climate change is exacerbating risks to people and property.
I was in Bonn, Germany for COP23, the annual UN climate talks, where the Trump administration was rendered largely irrelevant and isolated in its stance on the Paris agreement. Every other nation is steadfastly committed to the agreement, and the "We Are Still In" coalition of U.S. sub-national actors was there in full force to reiterate that the nation's clean energy and carbon-cutting progress will continue despite the retrograde actions of the Trump administration.
As we close out the year with the passage of a deeply unjust and harmful tax reform bill and a sober reckoning of this year's record-breaking disasters, including wildfires and hurricanes, there are lots of reasons to be very concerned.
Yet, there are some bits of good news too. The terribly destructive Thomas Fire in California is finally under control, for one. I also see signs all around that the resistance is alive and well–and gathering steam.
Just a few examples of positive developments:
- We've seen a number of unqualified nominees proposed by the administration forced to withdraw recently because of public pressure;
- Our nation's transition away from coal to cleaner power sources continues unabated, lowering power sector carbon emissions;
- Many states continue to enhance the ambition of their clean energy policies;
- Many people stood up to defend science (here's UCS' list of 2017 Science Defenders, example);
- Congress roundly rejected many of the extreme budget cuts proposed by the administration;
- The Alabama election demonstrated the power of African American voters (women especially), a historically disenfranchised segment of the population;
- The National Defense Authorization Act recently signed by President Trump explicitly acknowledges that climate change is a direct threat to U.S. national security. (Of course we had to then call him out for flip-flopping a week later when the administration released a National Security Strategy that doesn't even mention climate change!)
Hope for 2018
What gives me hope for 2018 is that Americans from all walks of life are now awake to the threats this administration poses to our democracy, our health, our climate and basic human rights—and we're fighting back! Our movement is strongest when we work together, connecting our work to people's daily lives and concerns, and specifically aiming for solutions that are just.
The wins may not come easily and there's a lot of work ahead. This administration's attacks on science and our core values will very likely continue. But they are helping to forge our resistance and build its power. (Not to mention inspiring reams of incredibly biting, funny, incisive political satire–humor is sometimes the only way to handle the farcical extremes we've experienced this year!)
I hope you'll share your moments of resistance in the comments section. A peaceful new year to all.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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