By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?
Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."
Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.
The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). Public concern is rising in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?
With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.
Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.
- Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science
- Martha McSally of Arizona
- Thom Tillis of North Carolina
- Susan Collins of Maine
- Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)
- John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)
Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.
In the House, environmentalists are working to elect these candidates, in one case over an establishment Democrat:
- Beth Doglio of Washington state
- Georgette Gómez of California
- Marie Newman of Illinois
- Cameron Webb of Virginia
- Mike Siegel and Wendy Davis of Texas
We rightfully focus on federal climate policy, but climate action must also be made at the state and local level—and there are plenty of races and initiatives to pay attention to.
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?
THE CLIMATE HAWKS
Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.
THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS
Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.
A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.
In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what HuffPost called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?
The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's Environmental Voter Project works to awaken this sleeping giant.
THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT
Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the Sunrise Movement are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?
And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, Vote Like A Madre aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"
This story originally appeared in The Nation and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
- Climate Activists Prepare for November Election - EcoWatch ›
- The Next Election Is About the Next 10,000 Years - EcoWatch ›
- Latino Voters Worried About Climate Change Could Swing 2020 ... ›
- How Does the Climate Crisis Impact the 2020 Senate Races? - EcoWatch ›
- Climate Campaigners Mobilize for Election Nationwide, Vowing to 'Crush Trump' - EcoWatch ›
- The Biggest Environmental Wins and Losses of the 2020 Election - EcoWatch ›
By Bill McKibben
To understand the planetary importance of this autumn's presidential election, check the calendar. Voting ends on November 3—and by a fluke of timing, on the morning of November 4 the United States is scheduled to pull out of the Paris Agreement.
President Trump announced that we would abrogate our Paris commitments during a Rose Garden speech in 2017. But under the terms of the accords, it takes three years to formalize the withdrawal. So on Election Day it won't be just Americans watching: The people of the world will see whether the country that has poured more carbon into the atmosphere than any other over the course of history will become the only country that refuses to cooperate in the one international effort to do something about the climate crisis.
Trump's withdrawal benefited oil executives, who have donated millions of dollars to his reelection campaign, and the small, strange fringe of climate deniers who continue to insist that the planet is cooling. But most people living in the rational world were appalled. Polling showed widespread opposition, and by some measures, Trump is more out of line with the American populace on environmental issues than any other. In his withdrawal announcement he said he'd been elected "to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris"; before the day was out, Pittsburgh's mayor had pledged that his city would follow the guidelines set in the French capital. Young people, above all, have despised the president's climate moves: Poll after poll shows that climate change is a top-tier issue with them and often the most important one—mostly, I think, because they've come to understand how tightly linked it is not just to their future but to questions of justice, equity, and race.
Here's the truth: At this late date, meeting the promises set in Paris will be nowhere near enough. If you add up the various pledges that nations made at that conference, they plan on moving so timidly that the planet's temperature will still rise more than 3 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels. So far, we've raised the mercury 1 degree Celsius, and that's been enough to melt millions of square miles of ice in the Arctic, extend fire seasons for months, and dramatically alter the planet's rainfall patterns. Settling for 3 degrees is kind of like writing a global suicide note.
Happily, we could go much faster if we wanted. The price of solar and wind power has fallen so fast and so far in the last few years that they are now the cheapest power on earth. There are plenty of calculations to show it will soon be cheaper to build solar and wind farms than to operate the fossil fuel power stations we've already built. Climate-smart investments are also better for workers and economic equality. "We need to have climate justice, which means to invest in green energy, [which] creates three times more jobs than to invest in fossil fuel energy," United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said in an interview with Covering Climate Now in September. If we wanted to make it happen, in other words, an energy revolution is entirely possible. The best new study shows that the United States could cut its current power sector emissions 80 percent by 2035 and create 20 million jobs along the way.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris haven't pledged to move that quickly, but their climate plan is the farthest-reaching of any presidential ticket in history. More to the point, we can pressure them to go farther and faster. Already, seeing the polling on the wall, they've adopted many of the proposals of climate stalwarts like Washington Governor Jay Inslee. A team of Biden and Bernie Sanders representatives worked out a pragmatic but powerful compromise in talks before the Democratic National Convention; the Biden-Harris ticket seems primed to use a transition to green energy as a crucial part of a push to rebuild the pandemic-devastated economy.
Perhaps most important, they've pledged to try to lead the rest of the world in the climate fight. The United States has never really done this. Our role as the single biggest producer of hydrocarbons has meant that our response to global warming has always been crippled by the political power of Big Oil. But that power has begun to slip. Once the biggest economic force on the planet, the oil industry is a shadow of its former self. (You could buy all the oil companies in America for less than the cost of Apple; Tesla is worth more than any other auto company on earth.) And so it's possible that the hammerlock on policy exercised by this reckless industry will loosen if Trump is beaten.
But only if he's beaten. Four more years will be enough to cement in place his anti-environmental policies and to make sure it's too late to really change course. The world's climate scientists declared in 2018 that if we had any chance of meeting sane climate targets, we had to cut emissions almost in half by 2030. That's less than 10 years away. We're at the last possible moment to turn the wheel of the supertanker that is our government. Captain Trump wants to steer us straight onto the rocks, mumbling all the while about hoaxes. If we let him do it, history won't forgive us. Nor will the rest of the world.
This story originally appeared in The Nation and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
While solar energy has plenty of benefits, there are also high upfront costs associated with installing a home renewable energy system. So, at the end of the day, are solar panels worth it?
If you want to minimize your ecological impact while reducing or even eliminating monthly utility bills, solar panels may be well worth the money. But they may not be the best solution for every home. In this article, we'll review solar panel costs, longevity and return on investment to help you decide whether they're right for you.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?
The first thing to be aware of is that installing a residential solar system is always going to be expensive. Yes, saving money on your monthly utility bills can help balance that startup expense, and you can get some incentives to help undercut the cost of solar panels (more on that in a moment). But ultimately, there's no way around it: Investing in a residential solar system can be pricey.
How pricey, exactly? Your total solar energy system cost will depend on a myriad of factors, including the type of solar panels you choose, the number of panels required for your home, and the specific solar panel installation company you hire.
With that said, according to Sunrun, the average cost of installing solar panels in 2021 is between $16,200 to $21,400. And it's worth noting that this actually represents a significant drop in the price tag for solar panels. Solar installation is becoming more and more affordable, even if the startup price remains a little daunting.
Offsetting the Cost of Solar Panels
Something else to be aware of is that, over the past decade or so, both the federal government and many state governments have unveiled programs to provide financial incentives for solar installation. These programs include local and federal tax credits and other rebates. Top solar companies are usually able to help you identify and apply to any programs you are eligible for.
The current federal solar tax credit, called an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) provides a 26% credit for systems installed between 2020 and 2022. State incentives can be added on top for even more savings. However, even with numerous solar incentives, pricing and solar panel installation costs can still be steep.
How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
As you think about the initial startup investment in solar panels, another question to consider is system longevity. After you buy solar panels, how long do they last? Will they function long enough for you to get your money's worth?
Again, the answer can vary slightly depending on the specific type of solar panels you choose. As a rule of thumb, however, most residential solar systems last between 20 and 30 years and require only the most minimal maintenance and upkeep. Most of the best solar panels come backed with fairly rigorous warranties, ensuring your system holds up for at least two decades. Of course, when purchasing a solar panel system, you'll want to take a close look at the warranty information offered.
The longevity of your solar panel system can also add to the value of your home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, buyers nationwide have been willing to pay an average premium of about $15,000 for a home with a solar array. In many cases, that alone can cover most of all of your solar investment.
How Much Money Will You Save With Solar Panels?
Related to the question of panel longevity is the question of a solar power system's return on investment, or ROI. How much power is a home solar system going to generate? How much money will it save you? Will month-to-month electric bill savings mean that your solar system "pays for itself" after a few years?
The amount of money you save on your monthly utility costs can vary depending on the efficiency and power of your solar panels, as well as your household energy consumption habits. Keep in mind that your savings will be greater if you live in an area where electricity rates are higher; by contrast, if you live somewhere with a lower cost of electricity, the money you save from going solar may be comparatively meager.
EnergySage notes that, over the lifespan of your solar system, you're likely to save anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 on utility costs. This may or may not be enough for the unit to "pay for itself," though an upside of solar power ROI is that it's fairly instantaneous. Once your system is installed, you'll be able to start saving money right away.
Free Quote: See How Solar Panels Would Cost for Your Home
Fill out this 30-second form to get a quote from one of the best solar energy companies in your area. You could an average of $2,500 each year on your electric bills and receive a tax rebate.
Are Solar Panels Worth It for Your House?
Ultimately, whether solar panels are worth it will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case and home-by-home basis. Simply put, solar power is a smarter option for some than for others. The question is, how can you tell whether you're a good candidate for solar panels?
Best Candidates for Solar Power
Solar panels tend to be a better investment for homeowners who meet the following criteria:
- Ample exposure to sun: If you live in a part of the country that gets lots of exposure to sunlight throughout the year, then you'll probably get more mileage out of your solar panels. It's little wonder that solar power is most popular in places like Arizona, Texas, California and even North Carolina.
- Accommodating roof space: A good solar system will require plenty of surface area on your roof, unobstructed by skylights, chimneys or other fixtures. With a smaller roof, you can still potentially install a system, but you'll need to find the most efficient solar panels (which are often more expensive) to maximize your limited space.
- High electricity bills: The amount of money you save by going solar will be directly proportional to the amount you spend each month on electrical costs. So, if you live in a community where the price of electricity is pretty high, you stand to achieve greater savings when you go solar.
Who's Not a Good Candidate for Solar Power?
By contrast, some homes may not be as well-positioned to reap a high solar power ROI.
- Homes without much sun exposure: If you know anything about how solar panels work, it won't be a surprise that darker areas benefit less from this renewable energy source. In a place where there tends to be a lot of cloud coverage or more limited solar exposure for good chunks of the year, the jump to solar may not be as advantageous.
- Homes with too much shade: Similarly, if your roof tends to be shaded for long stretches of the day (for example, if your home is in the shadow of a larger building or a lot of dense trees), then your solar panels may not get the sun exposure they need to generate a solid ROI.
- You pay lower costs for electricity: If your electrical bills are already fairly minimal, then installing a residential solar system will yield more modest and measured savings.
- You don't have the right kind of roof: Certain types of roofs just aren't as well-suited for solar power installation. For example, older or historic homes that have particular kinds of tiled roofs and homes that have larger skylights may not be good matches for solar energy.
How to Determine Your Solar Power ROI
Is solar worth it for you and your household? There are a few steps you can take to weigh solar energy pros and cons and make an informed decision.
One option is to consult with a solar panel installation company that can assess your roof and your positioning in relation to the sun, then supply you with a basic estimate of how much money you could save by installing solar panels. Reputable installers can also provide greater detail about the different types of solar panels that are available and recommend the technology you'll need to realize a significant solar power ROI for your home.
Even before you take the initial step and meet with a solar installer, a number of solar companies offer online calculators, which you can use to estimate your monthly utility savings. We'll stress that these calculators only give a very rough estimate and should be taken lightly, but they can still create a basic sense of whether solar panels are worth it for your home.
So, Are Solar Panels Worth It? It All Depends...
The bottom line for homeowners: Solar energy represents one of the best ways to reduce your dependence on traditional utility companies. And for many homeowners, solar power ROI will be well worth it. With that said, the startup cost can be prohibitive, and not every homeowner will achieve the same bang for their buck.
As you consider whether solar panels are a sound investment for your home, make sure you take into account cost, warranty, longevity and overall efficiency, all while seeking guidance from qualified solar experts.
By Jacob Wallace
This story is published as part of StudentNation's "Vision 2020: Election Stories From the Next Generation" reports from young journalists that center the concerns of diverse young voters. In this project, working with Dr. Sherri Williams, we recruited young journalists from different backgrounds to develop story ideas and reporting about their peers' concerns ahead of the most important election of our lives. We'll continue publishing two stories each week over the course of September.
In the speech she gave at the People's Climate March in Washington in 2017, Jansikwe Medina-Tayac, then 15, told a crowd of thousands, "This [climate change] is not just an environmental issue. This is a race issue, this is an immigration issue, this is a feminist issue."
The experience was a formative moment for Medina-Tayac, who devoted much of her free time to climate justice advocacy. "I remember waking up the next morning and my mom was like, 'Jansi, your video got like 500,000 views,'" Medina-Tayac, who lives in Silver Spring, Md., said. "At that age you're not used to being listened to by people."
Now 18, she cofounded the Washington chapter of Zero Hour, a woman-of-color-led climate justice organization with fellow student activist Khadija Khokhar in February. "To me, the people who are fighting against climate change and who are most affected are people of color," Medina-Tayac said. "And yet we don't see them reflected often." This is what she hopes Zero Hour will do.
Medina-Tayac, a member of the Piscataway Nation, a Native American tribe historically based around the Chesapeake Bay, and Khokhar, a Muslim and a first-generation immigrant, both felt that other climate movements they participated in were whitewashed. After meeting at one of Jane Fonda's Fire Drill Friday rallies in the fall, they kept in touch, and by the new year, they decided they wanted to be a part of a movement that incorporated inclusive policies and more people of color in leadership. "I honestly feel like there aren't enough of those spaces," Medina-Tayac said. "I'm really just making sure to reach out to as many communities as I can and really creating a space where people feel safe to share about their experiences. Just a space where people can learn and share and be equal partners."
Young voters are intimately aware that they will be forced to bear the full effects of climate change, and this is especially true for frontline communities in areas with higher pollution or fewer green spaces or on coastlines being eaten away by rising oceans. Zero Hour's platform reflects that duality: The organization calls for a "Just Transition" away from fossil fuels by 2040 like many other climate advocacy groups, but it also counts defending the treaty rights of Native Americans, for example, as a core part of its mission "because treaty rights are the only truly rigorous laws already in place that protect the land, the water, the wildlife, and the people."
Far beyond the presidential election, young activists from organizations like Zero Hour, Sunrise Movement, and beyond are demanding that all political candidates in the 2020 election begin to make mitigating global warming a key policy issue, and not just a talking point. During this polarized election year, these activists are finding ways to create climate policy at every level of government. "The goal is to get mass mobilization, to get everybody out in the streets," Khokhar said. "The entire climate movement is already rolling."
Millennials and Generation Z are the only generations in the United States where a majority of survey respondents say Earth is getting warmer due to human activity, according to a 2019 survey by Pew Research Center. Among 1,000 voters aged 18–29, one survey found that as many as 4 in 5 believe "global warming is a major threat to human life on earth as we know it."
Though the majority of Generation Z is still too young to vote, Generation Z and millennial voters already make up nearly 40 percent of the electorate, according to Carolyn DeWitt, president and executive director of Rock the Vote. With that level of power comes expectations about their clout as a voting bloc.
Although Medina-Tayac is now voting age, she is remaining focused on educating young people about policies like the Green New Deal rather than the presidential election. "I think the Green New Deal is really, really important and has sparked a lot of really interesting ideas in the movement," Medina-Tayac said. "[The climate justice movement] needs to be people-powered and there has to be policy-making."
During the Democratic primary, Khokhar was a strong supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders and valued his support for the Green New Deal. But now, with the primaries over and the pandemic ravaging the nation, she's accepted a position as the Detroit fellow for Zero Hour's Vote for Our Future campaign. In the role, which was created as part of a campaign to boost youth voter turnout, Khokhar is partnering with community organizations near her home in southeast Michigan, where she returned when quarantining began.
"What we're trying to do is get out young voters, because the youth voter turnout is a lot lower than it should be," Khokhar said. "It should be a lot higher, and the people that young people who aren't voting should hear that message from are [other] young people."
Some young activists compare today's climate activism to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, arguing that both are youth-led movements focused on systemic change. And like in the civil rights era, the current wave of activism has driven engagement at the polls. In modern times, the more young people participated in activist work ranging from signing an online petition to attending a demonstration, the more likely they were to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, according to research conducted at Tufts University's Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
In fact, much like the civil rights movement, the modern environmental justice movement began in the South. In the 1980s, a young sociologist named Robert Bullard was asked by his wife, attorney Linda McKeever Bullard, to conduct research for a lawsuit against the local waste management company. Bullard studied the location of toxic waste sites in Houston and discovered that for decades, these sites had been systematically placed in neighborhoods that were predominantly Black or brown.
Bullard waited years to get recognition from mainstream civil rights organizations, but he places his work in a long line of activism around dignity for black workers in the United States. Bullard notes that the final event that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attended before his assassination was a sanitation workers' strike in Memphis, where Black workers were forced to move the city's garbage for low pay in inhumane conditions. "The environment piece was not something that was on the radar [of civil rights organizations,]" Bullard said. "The issue died with him."
But Bullard continued to press his case with Black civil rights groups and white environmental groups, undeterred. By 1990, Bullard had conducted enough research with academics and activists around the country to write what would become his first book, Dumping in Dixie. "It took two decades for us to get the two groups to converge in a way that people saw this as something that should be baked into their work," Bullard said.
Indeed, young activists have become increasingly more focused and sophisticated in how they push for action on issues like climate change, said Katie Kirchner, national director of the Roosevelt Network. A former campus organizer herself, Kirchner coordinates a program that "trains, equips, and develops progressive policymakers" at the local level. Kirchner sees that local work as complementary to activism taking place at the national level to create federal climate policy. "The organizing that Gen Z has been doing in general has been phenomenal," Kirchner said. "We have to have a movement that's powerful enough to hold politicians accountable across the board at every level, really."
In their inaugural meeting at a Washington, D.C., hotel on February 23, Medina-Tayac and Khokhar walked attendees through a PowerPoint presentation of how they believed climate change and sustainability were intersectional issues.
"We believe that people on the frontlines should lead the movement," Khokhar, 19, told the attendees. "Especially in the climate movement, we've seen in a lot of organizations, it's a lot of privileged white people, to be completely candid, who are leading this movement who haven't really faced the effects of the climate crisis or are just now starting to. So we really value giving the voice back to the people who have been fighting this fight for so much longer."
The organizers walked attendees through slides that helped introduce some of the young attendees to complex issues like colonialism, racism, and the prison-industrial complex. By the end of the discussion, the gathered crowd was discussing future plans for an Earth Day strike and the importance of scheduling events to be inclusive to those fasting for Ramadan and welcoming to long-time residents of Washington, D.C.
One of the young activists in attendance that day was Iris Zhan. A high school student in Clarksville, Md., Zhan is just 16. Last year, Zhan wanted to organize a #FridaysForFuture walkout at her high school in solidarity with the movement begun by Greta Thunberg, the internationally renowned student climate activist from Sweden. But Zhan realized that in order to get students to come to her rally she'd have to ensure they wouldn't be penalized by the school for attending.
"We're like, 'How are we going to get people to come out?'" Zhan said. "The only way is to get an excused absence for that day."
Zhan circulated a petition that eventually received hundreds of signatures, enough to convince the school to make the walkout an excused absence. As a bonus, the petition also increased awareness about the work she was doing with Sunrise Movement, another youth environmental justice group.
"[After that,] people kind of knew who I was, like I'm the climate person," Zhan said. "There's real stuff you can do besides a walkout, and people were able to see that."
Since the walkout, Zhan has gathered a group of friends she considers her "strike circle" to attend local meetings for organizations like Zero Hour and attended a climate strike at the Howard County government building in December, where she spoke with local politicians about the movement.
Zhan said that although she considers herself and her peers to be studious, they also view it as equally important to take time to advocate for policies that matter to them, regardless of whether they're able to vote. Walkouts, for instance, were once considered radical, Zhan said, but she believes they're almost a new normal for Generation Z.
"I think when you plant the activist mindset at a young age, it sticks with you," Zhan said. "Once you care about it you can't un-care about it, it kind of ingrains itself into your personality, and change[s] the way you act."
This story originally appeared in The Nation and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
- Youth Activists Urge Presidential Candidates to Address Climate ... ›
- Young Republican Climate Activists Split Over November's Election ... ›
- Activists Launch Youth 'Power Vote' Campaign to Turn Out Climate ... ›
- Climate Campaigners Want Public Banks to Fund Green Transition - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Environmental Takeaways From the 2020 Election Season - EcoWatch ›
- Youth Climate Activists Want a Role in Biden’s White House ›
- Youth Climate Activists to March 400 Miles From New Orleans to Houston ›
By Varshini Prakash and John Podesta
At the 2019 Republican Retreat, Donald Trump promised his allies that he would make this election about climate change: "I want to bring them way down the pike," he said, "before we start criticizing the Green New Deal."
At his Tulsa rally in June, and in many of the campaign "speeches" he's given since then, the president's long riff on the climate proved he hasn't forgotten the promise he made to Republicans. Trump's obsession with the Green New Deal—from his fixation on the completely debunked notion that windmills cause cancer, to his nonsense about cows and hamburgers, to his racist and misogynistic ramblings about Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who introduced the Green New Deal Resolution—is much more central to his reelection effort than it appears at first glance.
For whatever reason, Trump has decided that the Green New Deal—a proposal to save our country from environmental and economic disaster—is going to be his main electoral punching bag in the 2020 campaign.
If that's the fight he wants to pick, we say: Bring it on. And new polling shows the Democratic Party should welcome the fight, too.
Trump and the GOP appear poised to spend the election attacking Joe Biden's plan to create millions of high-paying jobs by falsely arguing that it will cost $100 trillion, and destroy all the cows, cars, and airplanes. The goal of these absurd lies is to distract us from the truth: He and his party have no plan to address the climate crisis aside from further lining the pockets of oil and gas executives. But the American people want climate action.
New polling from Climate Power 2020 finds 71 percent favor bold government action on climate change, while only 18 percent oppose it. And talking about climate moves votes for Democrats. When presented as a choice between a Democratic congressional candidate in favor of bold climate action and an anti-action Republican, the vote moves 14 points in the Democrat's favor. This jump is even bigger—21 points—for centrist Republican and Democratic voters. These numbers are astronomical, and they make clear that running aggressively on climate is the Democratic Party's biggest political opportunity this election.
Trump's record on climate is damning. He put oil and coal lobbyists in charge of protecting our environment—and they immediately went to work rolling back over 100 environmental safeguards, allowing corporate polluters to pump more toxic pollution and chemicals into our air and water. So that companies like Chevron can keep making billions in profits and pay zero in federal taxes, he's waged a war on our clean energy industry that's cost our economy over 1.1 million jobs. Future generations will face devastating health impacts and extreme weather disasters, all because Trump spent four years allowing fossil fuel lobbyists to dictate his every move on the climate, clean energy, and the environment.
Trump is picking this fight because he thinks he can convince voters that bold climate action is a threat, not a necessity. But hyperbolic attacks don't work. Polling shows the American people see it for what it is: another distraction from the same guy who's called both climate change and the novel coronavirus a hoax, who had the audacity to claim that thousands of Americans did not die under his watch in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and who never listens to scientists, experts—or even his own military leaders at the Pentagon, which have recognized climate change as a national security threat for years.
But here's the deal: Running boldly on tackling the climate crisis, running on a Green New Deal, these are policies that can be popular in all 50 states. Democrats should run toward, not away from these fights. The evidence is clear: If we loudly make the case for bold climate action, we will win.
John's gray hair is a testament to our 44-year difference in age. Those familiar with each of us may not think we have a lot in common. One of us chaired Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, and one of us was Bernie Sanders's leading climate surrogate in 2020. But we're both clear: We've never seen our country so eager to elect leaders who will take bold action to stop the climate crisis.
Neither have we ever known a country in such dire need of such bold action. In a moment of historic unemployment, Democrats want to put millions of people back to work now by investing in bold climate action that would create millions of clean energy jobs and begin to repair decades of environmental injustice. That's what the American people want too. By 23 points, voters support investing trillions of dollars in clean energy infrastructure.
We have paid an inconceivable price for Trump's refusal to heed experts and science in a crisis. But as Americans claw out of unemployment, as folks scrape together the money to properly honor the lives they have lost, we have become unified by our acute fear of living through another crisis of this scale.
The climate crisis is the crisis we fear. Trump wants to fight about it. That's good. So do we.
- Kamala Harris Becomes Latest 2020 Dem to Support a Green New ... ›
- 5 Key Questions About the Green New Deal - EcoWatch ›
- 81% of Voters Support a Green New Deal, Survey Finds - EcoWatch ›
By Bill McKibben
Nineteen-seventy was a simpler time. (February was a simpler time too, but for a moment let's think outside the pandemic bubble.)
Simpler because our environmental troubles could be easily seen. The air above our cities was filthy, and the water in our lakes and streams was gross. There was nothing subtle about it. In New York City, the environmental lawyer Albert Butzel described a permanently yellow horizon: "I not only saw the pollution, I wiped it off my windowsills."
Or consider the testimony of a city medical examiner: "The person who spent his life in the Adirondacks has nice pink lungs. The city dweller's are black as coal." You've likely heard of Cleveland's Cuyahoga River catching fire, but here's how New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller described the Hudson south of Albany: "one great septic tank that has been rendered nearly useless for water supply, for swimming, or to support the rich fish life that once abounded there." Everything that people say about the air and water in China and India right now was said of America's cities then.
It's no wonder that people mobilized: 20 million Americans took to the streets for the first Earth Day in 1970—10 percent of America's population at the time, perhaps the single greatest day of political protest in the country's history. And it worked. Worked politically because Congress quickly passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and scientifically because those laws had the desired effect. In essence, they stuck enough filters on smokestacks, car exhausts, and factory effluent pipes that, before long, the air and water were unmistakably cleaner. The nascent Environmental Protection Agency commissioned a series of photos that showed just how filthy things were. Even for those of us who were alive then, it's hard to imagine that we tolerated this.
But we should believe it, because now we face even greater challenges that we're doing next to nothing about. And one reason is you can't see them.
The carbon dioxide molecule is invisible; at today's levels you can't see it or smell it, and it doesn't do anything to you. Carbon with one oxygen molecule? That's what kills you in a closed garage if you leave the car running. But two oxygen molecules? All that does is trap heat in the atmosphere. Melt ice caps. Raise seas. Change weather patterns. But slowly enough that most of the time, we don't quite see it.
And it's a more complex moment for another reason. You can filter carbon monoxide easily. It's a trace gas, a tiny percentage of what comes from a power plant. But carbon dioxide is the exact opposite. It's most of what comes pouring out when you burn coal or gas or oil. There's no catalytic converter for CO2, which means you have to take down the fossil fuel industry.
That in turn means you have to take on not just the oil companies but also the banks, asset managers, and insurance companies that invest in them (and may even own them, in the wake of the current economic crash). You have to take on, that is, the heart of global capital.
And so we are. Stop the Money Pipeline, a coalition of environmental and climate justice groups running from the small and specialized to the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, formed last fall to try to tackle the biggest money on earth. Banks like Chase—the planet's largest by market capitalization—which has funneled a quarter-trillion dollars to the fossil fuel industry since the Paris Agreement of 2015. Insurers like Liberty Mutual, still insuring tar sands projects even as pipeline builders endanger Native communities by trying to build the Keystone XL during a pandemic.
This campaign sounds quixotic, but it seemed to be getting traction until the coronavirus pandemic hit. In January, BlackRock announced that it was going to put climate at the heart of its investment analyses. Liberty Mutual, under similar pressure from activists, began to edge away from coal. And Chase—well, Earth Day would have seen activists engaging in civil disobedience in several thousand bank lobbies across America, sort of like the protest in January that helped launch the campaign (and sent me, among others, off in handcuffs). But we called that off; there's no way we were going to risk carrying the microbe into jails, where the people already locked inside have little chance of social distancing.
Still, the pandemic may be causing as much trouble for the fossil fuel industry as our campaign hoped to. With the demand for oil cratering, it's clear that these companies have no future. The divestment campaign that, over a decade, has enlisted $14 trillion in endowments and portfolios in the climate fight has a new head of steam.
Our job—a more complex one than faced our Earth Day predecessors 50 years ago—is to force the spring. We need to speed the transition to the solar panels and wind turbines that engineers have worked so mightily to improve and are now the cheapest way to generate power. The only thing standing in the way is the political power of the fossil fuel companies, on clear display as President Trump does everything in his power to preserve their dominance. That's hard to overcome. Hard but simple. Just as in 1970, it demands unrelenting pressure from citizens. That pressure is coming. Indigenous nations, frontline communities, faith groups, climate scientists, and savvy investors are joining together, and their voices are getting louder. Seven million of us were in the streets last September. That's not 20 million, but it's on the way.
We can't be on the streets right now. So we'll do what we can on the boulevards of the Internet. Join us for Earth Day Live, three days of digital activism beginning April 22. We're in a race, and we're gaining fast.
Bill McKibben is the founder of climate change campaign 350.org, a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, and the author of the new book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?.
This story originally appeared in The Nation, and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
- U.S. Bank Becomes First Major Bank to Stop Financing Pipeline ... ›
- Greenpeace Activists Urge Barclays to 'Stop Funding the Climate ... ›
By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope
Some good news, for a change, about climate change: When hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.
In September, 323 news outlets from across the U.S. and around the world collaborated to provide a week of high-profile coverage of the climate story, in the most extensive such project on record. The collaboration was organized by Covering Climate Now, a project co-founded by Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation. Participants included The Guardian, the project's lead media partner, and some of the biggest newspapers, television, and radio stations, and online news sites in the world: Bloomberg, CBS News, Agence France Presse, The Times of India, El País, Asahi Shimbun, Nature, WNYC, WHYY, HuffPost, National Observer, Univision, Al Jazeera, Harvard Business Review, and Scientific American. Joining them was an array of smaller, often nonprofit outlets hailing from Alabama to Alaska and Turkey to Togo. Representing 47 countries and much of the United States, these 323 outlets reached a combined audience of well over 1 billion people.
Over the course of the week surrounding the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23, Covering Climate Now outlets published or broadcast at least 3,640 stories about climate change. Social media sharing of Covering Climate Now stories was widespread, with 69,623 individual tweets and 1.93 billion total impressions.
The reach is likely much higher when factoring in stories distributed by news agencies around the world. One, Agence France Presse, distributed 1,200 text stories (in the six languages in which AFP publishes) to its thousands of newsroom clients around the world; it also made available 2,000 photos, 391 videos, and 170 graphics. The magnitude of AFP's climate coverage cannot be calculated without knowing how many clients picked up each of these items, "but the audience is clearly potentially in the billions, and we are increasingly seeing climate content being among the most used by [our] clients" says Phil Chetwynd, AFP's global news director.
The median number of stories per outlet was seven, reflecting the fact that some smaller partners have only one or two staffers. Larger outlets, however, more than compensated. "We ended up doing more than two dozen stories that wouldn't have run except for this initiative," said a senior editor at Bloomberg. The Guardian published more than 150 climate-related articles in its U.S., UK, Australian, and International editions.
All of which helped drive a much-needed increase in overall media coverage of the climate crisis. In September, "media attention to climate change and global warming was at its highest level globally in nearly a decade," reported the Media and Climate Change Observatory program at the University of Colorado Boulder. The watchdog group Media Matters for America commented about Covering Climate Now, "This initiative was unique in the depth and scope of its coverage, and many of the participating outlets touched upon climate change issues that have been either underreported or ignored in the media altogether." The Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, exposed what it called "the secret scourge of climate change" in the form of more sewage in the city's waterways as bigger storms overwhelmed drainage capacity. Rolling Stone revealed how agribusiness is blocking climate action by family farmers. El País, Spain's leading newspaper, devoted an entire issue of its weekly magazine to "La Battala Por El Planeta" (The Battle for the Planet). Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's largest newspapers, reported that record heat may make it very difficult to hold the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo as planned.
At least 185 of our outlets made their climate stories available at no cost for other partners to republish. The Guardian led the way, and more than 40 partners picked up its stories. This content sharing meant that readers, viewers, and listeners got access to more and higher quality climate coverage than any single outlet could provide on its own. The on-camera interview UN Secretary General António Guterres gave the partnership, which was shot by CBS News and made available in both English and Spanish versions, is one such example.
Now, in addition to facilitating other joint coverage collaborations, Covering Climate Now aims to encourage better news coverage of the climate story by writing about that coverage and convening conferences where journalists can discuss and share best practices. Our own reporting and commentary will appear on the websites of Covering Climate Now and Columbia Journalism Review and also be offered for free to any Covering Climate Now outlet that wishes to republish them.
The goal is to make the climate story a routine part of daily news coverage, rather than a subject addressed only on special occasions. KQED, the biggest public radio station in the San Francisco Bay Area, has long been committed to strong climate coverage, but that coverage, KQED science editor Kat Snow told us, had been siloed at the science desk. So KQED's science reporters and editors will soon begin one-on-one meetings with their counterparts elsewhere in the newsroom to explain how to include the climate angle in their coverage. "We want to help our colleagues see that climate change is part of the story for every beat," said Snow. "We'll give them background information and story ideas to incorporate the climate angle in their coverage of housing or education or whatever beat they work."
Finally, we will encourage our colleagues to grapple with the hard truths of climate science. Too often, news coverage has given political opinions precedence over scientific fact, blunting the public's response. One welcome contrast is the approach taken by The Guardian and The Washington Post: When 11,258 scientists released a public letter in early November endorsing a peer-reviewed study warning that the planet "clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency," both newspapers reported the story prominently on their homepages, with the words "crisis" and "emergency" in the headlines.
While much work still needs to be done, climate coverage does seem to have turned a corner. The climate silence that had long pervaded so much of the media has been broken. Now, the challenge is to improve the coverage. What do you wish your favorite news outlets would do to cover the climate story better? Send us your suggestions at [email protected].
This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 350 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
- A New Beginning for Climate Reporting - EcoWatch ›
- UN Climate Action Summit Falls 'Woefully Short' of Expectations ... ›
By António Guterres
On the eve of the September UN Climate Action Summit, young women and men around the world mobilized by the millions and told global leaders: "You are failing us."
They are right.
Global emissions are increasing. Temperatures are rising. The consequences for oceans, forests, weather patterns, biodiversity, food production, water, jobs and, ultimately, lives, are already dire — and set to get much worse.
The science is undeniable. But in many places, people don't need a chart or graph to understand the climate crisis. They can simply look out the window.
Climate chaos is playing out in real time from California to the Caribbean, and from Africa to the Arctic and beyond. Those who contributed least to the problem are suffering the most.
I have seen it with my own eyes from cyclone-battered Mozambique to the hurricane-devastated Bahamas to the rising seas of the South Pacific.
I called the Climate Action Summit to serve as a springboard to set us on the right path ahead of crucial 2020 deadlines established by the Paris agreement on climate change. And many leaders — from many countries and sectors — stepped up.
A broad coalition — not just governments and youth, but businesses, cities, investors and civil society — came together to move in the direction our world so desperately needs to avert climate catastrophe.
More than seventy countries committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, even if major emitters have not yet done so. More than 100 cities did the same, including several of the world's largest.
At least seventy countries announced their intention to boost their national plans under the Paris agreement by 2020.
Small Island States together committed to achieve carbon neutrality and to move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
Countries from Pakistan to Guatemala, Colombia to Nigeria, New Zealand to Barbados vowed to plant more than 11 billion trees.
More than 100 leaders in the private sector committed to accelerating their move into the green economy.
A group of the world's largest asset-owners — responsible for directing more than $2 trillion — pledged to move to carbon-neutral investment portfolios by 2050.
This is in addition to a recent call by asset managers representing nearly half the world's invested capital — some $34 trillion — for global leaders to put a meaningful price on carbon and phase out fossil fuel subsidies and thermal coal power worldwide.
The International Development Finance Club pledged to mobilize $1 trillion in clean energy funding by 2025 in 20 least developed countries.
One-third of the global banking sector signed up to align their businesses with the Paris agreement objectives and Sustainable Development Goals.
The Summit also showcased ways in which cities and global industries like shipping can achieve major reductions in emissions. Initiatives to protect forests and safeguard water supplies were also highlighted.
These steps are all important — but they are not sufficient.
From the beginning, the Summit was designed to jolt the world and accelerate action on a wider scale. It also served as a global stage for hard truths and to shine a light on those who are leading and those who are not. Deniers or major emitters have nowhere to hide.
I will continue to encourage them to do much more at home and drive green economic solutions around the world.
Our planet needs action on a truly planetary scale. That cannot be achieved overnight, and it cannot happen without the full engagement of those contributing most to the crisis.
If our world is to avoid the climate cliff, far more is needed to heed the call of science and cut greenhouse emissions by 45 percent by 2030; reach carbon neutrality by 2050; and limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century. That's how we can secure the future of our world.
Too many countries still seem to be addicted to coal — even though cheaper, greener options are available already. We need much more progress on carbon pricing, ensuring no new coal plants by 2020, and ending trillions of dollars in giveaways of hard-earned taxpayers' money to a dying fossil fuel industry to boost hurricanes, spread tropical diseases, and heighten conflict.
At the same time, developed countries must fulfill their commitment to provide $100 billion a year from public and private sources by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.
And I will make sure that the commitments that countries, the private sector and local authorities have made are accounted for — starting in December at the UN Climate conference in Santiago, Chile. The UN is united in support of realizing these initiatives.
Climate change is the defining issue of our time.
Science tells us that on our current path, we face at least 3 degrees Celsius of global heating by the end of the century. I will not be there, but my granddaughters will.
I refuse to be an accomplice in the destruction of their one and only home.
Young people, the UN — and a growing number of leaders from business, finance, government, and civil society — in short, many of us — are mobilizing and acting.
But we need many others to take climate action if we are to succeed.
We have a long way to go. But the movement has begun.
António Guterres is Secretary-General of the United Nations.
This article appears as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
- UN Climate Action Summit Falls 'Woefully Short' of Expectations ... ›
- 'You Are Failing Us': Greta Thunberg Rips Into World Leaders for ... ›
By Mark Hertsgaard
The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change "emergency."
"Governments always follow public opinion, everywhere in the world, sooner or later," Antonio Guterres said Tuesday in an interview with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets. Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, added, "We need to keep telling the truth to people and be confident that the political system, especially democratic political systems, will in the end deliver."
Guterres refused to comment on U.S. president Donald Trump and the Trump administration's hostility to climate action, but a CBS News poll released on September 15 found that 69 percent of Americans want the next president to take action, while 53 percent say such action is needed "right now." Guterres said that "it would be much better" if the U.S. was "strongly committed to climate action," just as it would be better if Asian countries [notably, China and Japan] stopped exporting coal plants. Until then, he said, "what I want is to have the whole society putting pressure on governments to understand they need to run faster. Because we are losing the race."
With six days remaining before the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23, the Secretary General cited the "fantastic leadership" of young activists as a leading example of how civil society can pressure governments to honor the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius and preferably to 1.5˚C. Recent election results across Europe—in which green parties gained significant public backing—also left Guterres optimistic that at next Monday's summit the European Union will announce that it promises to be "carbon neutral" by 2050, as the Paris Agreement mandates.
"Nature is angry," said Guterres, who recently returned from a visit to the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian unleashed what he called "total destruction." He further cited ferocious drought in Africa, melting glaciers, bleaching coral reefs, the hottest month in recorded history last July, and potential future sea level rise of 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet) as evidence that, "You cannot play games with nature. Nature strikes back."
"Don't bring a speech—bring a plan," Guterres famously told heads of state and government in the months leading up to this summit, and it appears that only leaders who followed his instructions will be allowed to speak at the plenary session. To gain a slot, a country had to commit to doing one of three things, said UN officials: be carbon neutral by 2050; "significantly" increase how much it will cut emissions (or, in UN jargon, significantly strengthen its Nationally Determined Contribution); or make a "meaningful" pledge to the Green Climate Fund, a pool of money provided by wealthy countries to help developing countries leave fossil fuels behind and increase their resilience against climate disruption. UN officials expect that 60 to 70 countries will have made sufficiently solid commitments by next Monday that their leaders will be invited to outline their country's plans from the dais, with each leader granted a mere three minutes to speak.
While emphasizing that he had no desire to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Guterres spoke positively about a proposal by a leading Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, for a Green New Deal that would be global. Most of the leading Democratic presidential candidates endorse one form or another of the Green New Deal, a program in which the U.S. government would create millions of jobs by investing in solar power, energy efficiency, and other measures to reduce heat-trapping emissions. But a new report by The Nation pointed out that only Sanders's Green New Deal meets the scientific imperative of cutting global emissions by 45 percent by 2030 on the way to carbon neutrality by 2050. Sanders's Green New Deal does this by pledging not only to slash emissions in the U.S. but to help developing countries cut their emissions as well.
"The Paris Agreement was very clear," said Guterres. "There was a commitment by the developed countries to mobilize $100 billion per year, from private and public sources, to support the developing world both in mitigation [i.e., reducing emissions] and adaptation [preparing against impacts]. Obviously, it is essential that all countries, including the United States, play a role in relation to this."
Rich and poor countries have wrestled with the question of whether and how much financial assistance the rich should give the poor ever since governments first began debating the climate problem at the UN "Earth Summit" in 1992. The poorer countries argue that the rich countries' emissions are the foremost cause of global warming and climate disruption, while poor countries are the ones that suffer most from that disruption. Rich countries generally do not dispute those facts and have paid lip service to providing assistance, but actual contributions have been modest. The U.S., for example, has contributed only $1 billion, and the Trump administration blocked any additional contributions.
Guterres said in the interview Tuesday that "of course" he was aware of the global dimensions of Sanders' Green New Deal, and he added that, "Any attitude from a country like United States to increase… finance to the developing world would be of course welcome." As required by UN protocol, the Secretary General was careful to add, "That doesn't mean that we want to interfere in the American election."
As a former elected official himself, Guterres also emphasized the need for governments to show the public that climate protection need not mean economic hardship. The Secretary General advocates in particular for climate-smart tax reform: reducing taxes on people's incomes while increasing taxes on heat-trapping emissions. "If I [as a politician] take money from you with an increased carbon tax but I give you nothing in return, people will be against [it]," said Guterres. Although rarely described this way, corporate subsidies for production of fossil fuels are also a form of tax. "Let's be clear: Subsidies are paid with taxpayers' money," he said, adding with a smile, "I really do not like to see my money as a taxpayer going to bleach corals and melt glaciers."
Guterres disputed a common criticism of a Green New Deal—that it will cost too much—by turning the question around. "What is the cost of the consequences of taking no action?" he asked. Depending on what governments do at the Climate Action Summit next Monday, and are pressured to do by civil society in the weeks and years to come, the world may learn the answer to that question soon enough.
This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope
It's been 30 years since Bill McKibben rang the warning bells about the threat of man-made climate change — first in a piece in The New Yorker, and then in his book, The End of Nature.
For most of that time, the response from most quarters of the media, especially in the U.S., has been either silence or, worse, getting the story wrong. Reporters and their news organizations sidelined climate stories as too technical or too political or too depressing. Spun by the fossil fuel industry and vexed by their own business problems, media outlets often leaned on a false balance between the views of genuine scientists and those of paid corporate mouthpieces. The media's minimization of the looming disaster is one of our great journalistic failures.
It is heartening, then, to report that the press may at last be waking up to the defining story of our time. At the end of April, Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation launched Covering Climate Now, a project aimed at encouraging news organizations, here and abroad, to raise their game when it comes to climate coverage. We weren't going to tell people what to write or broadcast; we just wanted them to do more coverage, and to do it better. Close the gap, we urged them, between the size of the story and the ambition of your efforts. Try it for a week, then report back on what you learned.
We had a hunch that there was a critical mass of reporters and news outlets that wanted to do more climate coverage, and hoped that by highlighting that critical mass, we could also help to grow it. That's exactly what has happened. Our initiative has been embraced by more than 250 news outlets from across the U.S. and around the world — big outlets and small, print and digital, TV and radio — with a combined audience of well over 1 billion people. Their response has been amazing, and gratifying.
We believe that Covering Climate Now is the biggest effort ever undertaken to organize the world's press around a single topic. (You'll find a list of partners here, and you can follow all of us on Twitter at #CoveringClimateNow.)
Our week of focused climate coverage began Sunday and will continue through next Monday, Sept. 23, the day of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York. And there's more to come after this week is over; the climate story is not going away, so neither are we. We'll be talking to our newsroom partners about what they learned this week, what they need to continue the momentum, what they can learn from one another, and where we go from here.
We are thrilled that Covering Climate Now has flourished. Yet what has also become clear in the five months since we began this effort is the enormous amount of work that remains to be done in order for the media to get this story right. In talking with dozens of reporters, producers and editors, we've learned a lot about the ambitions that newsrooms have for improving their climate coverage, but we've also seen where roadblocks remain.
As the scientists have been telling us with increasing urgency, humanity's window to transform our world is shrinking fast. Transforming the news media is fundamental to achieving that goal.
What misconceptions remain? What's keeping newsrooms from doing more? Here are some roadblocks that stood out in our conversations.
We don't know where to start.
One of our most sobering conversations came during a meeting inside one of the world's biggest news organizations, with a group of people asked by their boss to improve their climate coverage. These people were eager to embrace our project and had the resources to do it. But they had no idea how to begin:
Where do we come up with story ideas? Who should our sources be? Can you help us think this through? Their response stunned us, given the size of the newsroom around us, but it reminded us early on in this process that in many cases, we're starting from scratch. We've written before, critically, about why this should not be the case, about how the media's avoidance of the climate story has been an epic fail. Going forward, our focus will be on helping this newsroom, and others like it, get better.
Our viewers will think we're activists.
Many journalists and news executives continue to see climate coverage as political and worry that more coverage will be seen as activism.
We heard it from numerous newsrooms, and not just in those places where climate-denying politicians still hold sway. We think this concern distorts what newsgathering is about. Journalism has always been about righting wrongs, holding the powerful to account, calling out lies. It is in our best traditions to shine a light on our most vexing problems, in order to help fix them.
It's too late; the problem is too big for us to make any difference.
Good journalism often makes things happen, though not always on the timeline we'd like — if at all. The public doesn't respond; readers feel powerless; entrenched players outmaneuver reporters. That is part of how it works, too. But few reporters would still do the work if they believed it made no difference. It's our journalistic responsibility to convey what is happening and why, as well as who is trying to fix it, and how. That's our job as storytellers.
Readers will find this depressing and tune out.
News organizations that have embraced climate coverage find that audiences — particularly younger viewers, listeners, and readers — are, in fact, enormously engaged in the coverage. They may get angry or energized or organized by climate stories, but they don't tune them out. It is a strange time when journalism's leaders argue against covering a subject that's undeniably important simply because they're worried their audience may find it challenging. Is this really where you want your newsroom to be?
We're already pulling our weight.
There are a number of media outlets — not enough, but a number — that already are producing excellent climate coverage. (Our lead media partner, The Guardian, is at the top of that list.) But others declined to join this effort because they didn't see how it would help them; they already know the climate story, and believe they are covering it aggressively. We found those responses disappointing.
This is a chance for big media organizations to lead, and to help others along. The climate story stretches across all journalistic beats; it demands that we dismantle the usual silos. Covering it well may require a bit of cooperation and collaboration that is antithetical to how we usually work. Take this on as a problem that is bigger than your own newsroom.
All of these challenges are surmountable. Throughout this week, you'll hear from hundreds of newsrooms that have overcome them. Two hundred and fifty media organizations, more than 1 billion people. Those are big numbers. And they are just the beginning.
Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation's environment correspondent, has covered climate change since 1989.
Kyle Pope is the editor in chief and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review.
This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
- Covering climate change, now - Columbia Journalism Review ›
- Guardian joins major global news collaboration Covering Climate Now ›
- Covering Climate Now – The Conversation signs up for a special ... ›
- What if Reporters Covered the Climate Crisis Like Edward R ... ›
- Why I'm climate striking against Fox News on Friday - Columbia ... ›
- A New Commitment to Covering the Climate Story | The Nation ›