Quantcast

A New Call to National Climate Action

Nancy Pelosi takes the gavel from House minority leader Kevin McCarthy after being elected House speaker. SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images

By Rhea Suh

Minutes after opening the 116th Congress last week, incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi issued a stirring call to national action on what she called "the existential threat of our time: the climate crisis."

In Pelosi we have a leader who is listening to the science—and to the American people across the country as they rally around the urgent need for effective action to stem this global scourge.


Aided by that rising chorus and the growing movement calling for a Green New Deal, the new Democratic majority in the House has launched an assertive effort to use its power to help avert climate catastrophe, a threat the previous majority ignored.

After two years of watching the Trump administration retreat from climate progress at home and abroad, we've come to a national moment of hope. There's a long road ahead. But now's the time for every American who cares about leaving our children a livable world to stand up, speak out, and add their voice to the growing momentum for progress.

Blockbuster reports last fall from leading climate scientists, both in the U.S. and around the world, made clear the dire straits we're in and the links between climate change and inequality. Seas are rising, threatening our coastal communities and all they support. Croplands are turning to desert, threatening ranches and farms across the American heartland. Entire species are dying off faster than at any other time since the dinosaurs disappeared some 65 million years ago. Storms, wildfires and floods are raging. The Great Barrier Reef is dying.

All over the world, the impacts fall first and hardest on those with the fewest resources to take care of themselves. In our country, low-income communities and people of color often bear the greatest burden of climate hazard and harm.

All of this will get much worse, the science tells us, unless we move quickly and deliberately to cut the dangerous carbon pollution that is driving global climate change. And we must do so in a way that creates good jobs and promotes secure livelihoods for our families.

We've made progress, but not nearly enough. Growing frustration over congressional inaction was a key reason voters handed Democrats a House majority in the midterm elections last fall, after eight years of Republican control. The new majority has gotten the message. Now it's on us to work with them and hold them to account.

On the same day Pelosi assumed the speaker's gavel, using her opening speech to spotlight the urgent need for climate action, the new House voted to create a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. That's an important step forward. The select committee can help provide the focus and attention the climate crisis deserves, even as standing committees that work on the issue move forward with areas they oversee. Three House committees—Natural Resources; Energy and Commerce and Science, Space, and Technology—plan hearings on climate change.

"The entire Congress must work to put an end to the inaction and denial of science that threaten the planet and the future," Pelosi said in remarks that drew a standing ovation on the packed House floor. Casting the issue as a matter of public health, national security, economic prosperity and moral stewardship, she said congressional inaction was out of step with American priorities. "The American people understand the urgency," Pelosi said. "The people are ahead of the Congress. The Congress must join them."

Independent polling tells the story. Seven in ten Americans understand the growing dangers of climate change and expect the government to take action, a November poll by Monmouth University found.

The House has undergone a sea change, with climate action near the top of the agenda for the largest group of new members in history. The House freshmen elected in November are far younger and more diverse and feature more women, as a group, than the incumbents they'll be working alongside. Of the 101 newly elected House members, two-thirds are Democrats, 42 are women, 24 are people of color, and 22 have served in the military or the Central Intelligence Agency.

They didn't run to anchor the status quo. "They're going to shake this place up," California representative Jackie Speier told the Los Angeles Times.

On the climate front, that's already happening. Led by climate activists like 29-year-old New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the House, this group is demanding an overarching legislative package that puts us on the path to a clean energy future that's equitable and just.

At the grassroots level, the fast-growing, youth-oriented Sunrise Movement is calling for a Green New Deal, a comprehensive slate of policy measures that promote a just and equitable transition away from coal, oil and natural gas and the climate-wrecking carbon pollution that comes from burning those fossil fuels. Demand for climate action, in fact, is rising across generational, geographic, and even partisan lines.

Members of the Sunrise Movement protest at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, December 2018Becker1999 / Flickr

There's no question we need a comprehensive national effort to speed that transition. Already, some 3.2 million Americans go to work each day helping us to do exactly that. The right policy mix can help us create jobs for many millions more, by tying those efforts to a national mission that advances innovation and makes use of the world's most talented and committed workforce.

The Select Committee on the Climate Crisis must help us get that right. That means thorough hearings and investigations into the Trump administration's long record of suppressing science; rolling back commonsense rules that clean up our dirty power plants, trucks and cars; and putting polluter interests ahead of the national interest in averting climate catastrophe. It means transparent and inclusive proceedings that bring in the voices of low-income communities, people of color and others already living on the front lines of climate disaster. It means legislative policy solutions that promote a just and equitable transition to 100 percent clean energy by, for example, speeding the shift to more-efficient cars, homes and workplaces powered by clean, homegrown American energy from the wind and sun. And we must cut carbon pollution entirely, or offset it enough to achieve net zero emissions, by 2050 at the latest.

It's encouraging that the woman chosen to chair the select committee, Florida representative Kathy Castor, is a longtime climate advocate and clean energy champion who has pledged to work with proponents of a Green New Deal. "There's some fabulous proposals in the Green New Deal," Castor told The Hill last month. "This will be a committee clearly in the spirit of the Green New Deal."

It's important to bear in mind what the House is up against. Its investigative work must hold to account fossil fuel interests that have thwarted climate action. Since the select committee lacks subpoena power, the standing committees should be prepared to use their authority if necessary.

And, of course, the GOP-controlled Senate and White House continue to deny the climate realities before our very eyes and promote the fossil fuels that are driving the crisis. That's why it's so important that we raise our voices and step up our engagement to help support the work of the new House majority, make sure the country understands how important it is and keep the focus on the action we need.

At the same time, there's much progress we can make even in this divided Congress. Leaders in both houses have called out national infrastructure investment as a bipartisan priority. A forward-looking infrastructure package should help us to modernize the nation's electrical grid so we can make better use of solar and wind power, adopt building and design approaches that make our communities more resilient in the face of climate-related hazard and ongoing harm, and prioritize electric charging stations to better service the growing number of electric car owners.

There's also broad support for increasing investment in research and development to help ensure that American workers are winners in the fast-growing clean energy market, expected to attract $8.4 trillion in global investment over just the next three decades.

There's hard work ahead, to be sure. What's important is that, at last, we have House leadership that understands the stakes—for our families, our communities and our country—in standing up to climate change. We have leadership that understands the clock is ticking and we're running out of time to get this right. And we have leadership that's listening to the American people, who expect our government to take action to fight the central environmental challenge of our time.

"We have no illusions that our work will be easy, and that all of us in this chamber will always agree," Pelosi said. "But let us pledge that when we disagree, we respect each other—and we respect the truth."

Count us on board with that pledge as well.

Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Sponsored
Prince William and British naturalist David Attenborough attend converse during the World Economic Forum annual meeting, on January 22 in Davos, Switzerland. Fabrice Cofferini /AFP / Getty Images

Britain's Prince William interviewed famed broadcaster David Attenborough on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Switzerland.

During the sit-down, the 92-year-old naturalist advised the world leaders and business elite gathered in Davos this week that we must respect and protect the natural world, adding that the future of its survival—as well as humanity's survival—is in our hands.

Read More Show Less
EV charging lot in Anaheim, California. dj venus / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Electric vehicle sales took off in 2018, with a record two million units sold around the world, according to a new Deloitte analysis.

What's more, the accounting firm predicts that another 21 million electric cars will be on the road globally over the next decade due to growing market demand for clean transportation, government subsidies, as well as bans on fossil fuel cars.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Teenager Alex Weber and friends collected nearly 40,000 golf balls hit into the ocean from a handful of California golf courses. Alex Weber / CC BY-ND

By Matthew Savoca

Plastic pollution in the world's oceans has become a global environmental crisis. Many people have seen images that seem to capture it, such as beaches carpeted with plastic trash or a seahorse gripping a cotton swab with its tail.

As a scientist researching marine plastic pollution, I thought I had seen a lot. Then, early in 2017, I heard from Alex Weber, a junior at Carmel High School in California.

Read More Show Less
Southwest Greenland had the most consistent ice loss from 2003 to 2012. Eqalugaarsuit, Ostgronland, Greenland on Aug. 1, 2018. Rob Oo / CC BY 2.0

Greenland is melting about four times faster than it was in 2003, a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, a discovery with frightening implications for the pace and extent of future sea level rise.

"We're going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future," study lead author and Ohio State University geodynamics professor Dr. Michael Bevis said in a press release. "Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: How severe does it get?"

Read More Show Less
Seismic tests are a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and gas. BSEE

Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.

The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.

Read More Show Less
Brazil, Pantanal, water lilies. Nat Photos / DigitalVision / Getty Images Plus

Most people have heard of the Amazon, South America's famed rainforest and hub of biological diversity. Less well known, though no less critical, is the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland.

Like the Amazon, the Pantanal is ecologically important and imperiled. Located primarily in Brazil, it also stretches into neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Covering an area larger than England at more than 70,000 square miles, the massive wetland provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that include the regulation of floodwaters, nutrient renewal, river flow for navigability, groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration. The wetland also supports the economies of the four South American states it covers.

Read More Show Less
Demonstrators participate in a protest march over agricultural policy on Jan. 19 in Berlin, Germany. Carsten Koall / Getty Images Europe

By Andrea Germanos

Organizers said 35,000 people marched through the streets of the German capital on Saturday to say they're "fed up" with industrial agriculture and call for a transformation to a system that instead supports the welfare of the environment, animals and rural farmers.

Read More Show Less
MarioGuti / iStock / Getty Images

By Patrick Rogers

If you have ever considered making the switch to an environmentally friendly electric vehicle, don't drag your feet. Though EV prices are falling, and states are unveiling more and more public charging stations and plug-in-ready parking spots, the federal government is doing everything it can to slam the brakes on our progress away from gas-burning internal combustion engines. President Trump, likely pressured by his allies in the fossil fuel industry, has threatened to end the federal tax credits that have already helped put hundreds of thousands of EVs on the road—a move bound to harm not only our environment but our economy, too. After all, the manufacturing and sale of EVs, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids supported 197,000 jobs in 2017, according to the most recent U.S. Energy and Employment Report.

Read More Show Less