Climate Change: How to Tackle the Most Pressing Challenge Facing Humanity
President Obama vowed action on climate change in his historic inaugural speech, warning that "the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations." Here's how to make the case for why and how we can tackle one the most pressing challenges facing humanity.
Lead with common sense and values. Our grandchildren will ask us what we did on climate change. What's our answer?
Connect: We see the weather getting weirder with our own eyes. We see more frequent and destructive droughts, floods, wildfires and storms.
Explain: There's no longer any doubt we have a serious problem. Climate disruption is happening right here, right now, and it's making weather disasters and record-breaking heat waves worse.
Analogize: The threat of climate change is accepted science. If 97 out of 100 engineers warned you to not drive on a crumbling bridge, would you still drive on it? If 97 out of 100 doctors warned you to not eat tainted food, would you still eat it?
Aspire: If we want to protect our kids and grandkids, we have to deal with climate change before it gets out of control. Anyone who doubts whether we're up to the task is ignoring what America is capable of.
Illustrate: American businesses are starting to use the amazing energy technologies that our engineers have developed—including panels that harness power from the sun and turbines that capture energy from the wind.
Lead: We need to speed up the use of these technologies and spur more innovation. America should be leading the world in clean energy solutions, not getting left behind by Europe and China.
Define the opposition and demand accountability. Oil companies are rigging the system against our energy future.
Connect: We see the problem and know the solution. So who's trying to stop us?
Define: Dirty energy companies are holding back progress to protect their profits.
Explain: Oil and coal companies pay off politicians to protect wasteful taxpayer subsidies and keep out the competition by blocking clean energy innovation.
Illustrate: They keep our political system rigged by spending millions to influence our elections, lobby politicians, and spread doubts about accepted science that hurts their bottom line.
Lead: It's time to break Big Oil's grip on Washington and put people instead of corporations back in charge of our democracy.
Values: Our grandchildren will ask us what we did on climate change. What's our answer?
What you need to know:
- In climate science, a single degree in temperature changes is an enormous deal. In fact, raising the temperature of the planet one degree Celsius requires about 5 exaJoules (5 with 18 zeros after it) of energy—or the entire energy consumption of the United States for 4 million years.
- 2012 was the hottest year on record in the U.S. ever—by a lot. Last year's temperature average demolished the previous record by a full degree Fahrenheit. (Remember that with people, even a few degrees increase in body temperature can kill a patient.)
- Last year, more than 34,000 high temperature records were set at weather stations across the country, or more than five times the number of record temperature lows (fewer than 6,700).
- Globally, the 10 warmest years on record all happened in the past 15 years. Nobody who is younger than 28 has ever experienced a colder-than-average month because the last such month was February 1985.
- Carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere is the highest it's been in at least 650,000 years overall and at least 800,000 years in some regions.
- Climate change is accepted scientific consensus. Ninty-seven percent of scientists studying weather and climate agree that climate change is real, that it is happening here and now, and that it is caused by manmade industrial carbon pollution.
- Seeing is understanding—we see extreme weather events amplified by global warming all the time, like wildfires, record-breaking heat extremes, droughts and coastal flooding.
- Over the past three decades, weather disasters have caused more than $1 trillion in damage and 30,000 fatalities in North America.
- In addition to scientists, less obvious groups like undecided voters, business leaders, the insurance & risk management industry, former Congressional Republicans freed from re-election pressures and evangelicals are all urging our leaders in Washington to take action on climate change.
- Three-fourths of Americans understand that global warming is affecting weather in the U.S. and the majority understands that global warming is caused mostly by human activities.
- Nearly 90 percent of Americans agree the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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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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"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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