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Americans Are Calling for Climate Action, and the New House Leadership Is Listening

Insights + Opinion
Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts appear before the House Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 6. C-SPAN

By Rhea Suh

Wednesday marked a watershed moment in the national fight against the growing dangers of climate change, with two governors—a southern Democrat and a northeastern Republican—kicking off the first of a raft of hearings on the central environmental challenge of our time.

Appearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts laid out the stakes, for the people of their states and for the country, in standing up to this global scourge, in a hearing aptly titled "Climate Change: Impacts and the Need to Act."


The same morning, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change hosted its first climate hearing in six years, focusing on the environmental and economic effects of our warming planet.

You read that right: The Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change hadn't held a climate hearing in six years. That's an appalling abdication of responsibility by Republican leaders in Congress and their banner carrier, President Trump, who delivered another disappointing State of the Union address last night without once mentioning the mounting perils of climate change.

No one is surprised, but let's be clear. A president who ignores threats that gather before our very eyes is failing at job one for any leader: to prepare our people for a brighter, more hopeful, and more secure tomorrow.

A great tide, though, is turning. In the House, where Trump delivered his speech, new leadership is listening to the American people, about seven in ten of whom understand the growing dangers of climate change and expect national action to fight it.

Wednesday's climate hearings are the first of nearly a dozen already scheduled in the House or expected in the weeks ahead. The link between climate change and ocean health is the focus of a hearing Thursday afternoon before the Committee on Natural Resources' Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. And climate change will be very much on the agenda when the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development holds a hearing Thursday morning on "Energy Trends and Outlook." Among the witnesses: Amy Myers Jaffe, program director for energy security and climate change with the Council on Foreign Relations, and Ethan Zindler, head of Americas and policy analysis for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The House Natural Resources Committee is making a major push to frame up the environmental justice aspects of the climate debate, with a stress on whose stories are being heard, whose are being ignored, and how all voices might be raised. With that approach being emphasized at the level of the full committee, the subcommittees—Federal Lands; Energy and Mineral Resources; Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs; Oversight and Investigations; and Water, Power, and Oceans—are each planning climate hearings to address areas of their specific jurisdiction.

These hearings are important. They provide a way for our political leaders and the American people to connect the dots between what the science is telling us about climate change and what we're reading about in our papers, watching on our televisions, and seeing out our kitchen windows. And they provide expert guidance to policymakers searching for solutions to this overarching environmental challenge.

We just wrapped up the hottest four years since global record keeping began in 1880, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration reported Wednesday morning. The impacts are all around us. Seas are rising. Croplands are turning to deserts. We're losing entire species faster than at any other time since the dinosaurs disappeared some 60 million years ago. Storms, floods and wildfires are raging. The Great Barrier Reef is dying.

All of this will get worse—much worse­—unless we cut the dangerous carbon pollution that's driving this global scourge. And we haven't got much time.

That's why NRDC is so excited about the movement to create a Green New Deal, a comprehensive slate of policies aimed at helping us shift, as quickly as possible, to 100 percent clean energy in a way that provides a just and equitable transition away from the dirty fuels of the past and to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future.

Developing a Green New Deal will take time. Some of the broad contours will start to take shape, though, in the form of a joint House-Senate resolution being crafted by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). We're thrilled by the new urgency and the new ideas behind this national movement for change, and we look forward to seeing an ambitious plan.

What's coming together is a national call to action for the policies we need in order to rapidly move to a thriving clean-energy economy that creates millions of high-quality American jobs, reduces inequality and poverty, and safeguards our communities from environmental harm. Every American needs to get behind the growing momentum for climate action that will capture the urgency of the moment, rise to the challenge we face and promote the low-carbon transition we need.

We must press for congressional action that enables the country to keep the promise we made as part of the landmark 2015 Paris agreement. We cannot break that promise and leave our children to pay the price.

And we need to work, through the new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and all the House committees that have jurisdiction in areas that impact our climate future, to put in place the policies that can help us invest in the just and equitable transition to a clean energy economy.

We're excited to see what unfolds in the coming weeks and months, on Capitol Hill and across the country. What's important is that we seize this moment to build on the growing momentum for action—while we've still got time.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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