With all the coverage of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I just realized what was missing from applying an Apollo Mission-level intensity and a World War II-scale mobilization to solving the most pressing, existential crisis this nation faces: climate change.
Both the Race to the Moon and World War II mobilizations were propelled by the need to beat an enemy – Russia for domination of space and fascism in World War II – which overcame the knee-jerk responses of “too expensive” or “too disruptive” to society.
Instead, solving the climate crisis requires cooperation – partisan cooperation and global collaboration. And that’s where it all broke down under Republicans going back to Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Trumpism. (Moment of nostalgia: Just 2 ½ years ago, we had a president, Barack Obama, who led the nation and the world to the Paris Climate Accord and implemented significant steps toward transitioning from a carbon-based economy to one fueled by clean, renewable energy.)
So much these last 2 ½ years has felt so surreal, but none more than the back-to-back press calls I had: the first with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Council of Environmental Quality Chair Mary Neumeyer, who were giving a preview of the speech Trump was about to give. The theme, “America’s Environmental Leadership Under President Donald J. Trump.” (gag)
Laughably, Wheeler used as his measure of Trump’s masterful leadership the statistic that from 1970 to 2018, the combined emissions of the most common air pollutants fell 74 percent while the economy grew over 275 percent. The 1970 starting point pre-dated the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and the EPA, His example of global “leadership” was that Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, which, he said, was unfair to U.S. trade.
Mary Neumeyer, for her part, repeated at least four times the mantra that Trump “recognizes a strong economy is vital for environmental protection” – not that environmental protection is vital for a strong economy.
The next day, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) held a press call about their plan to introduce a resolution declaring the climate crisis a national emergency warranting massive-scale mobilization on the level of World War II to urgently halt, reverse, and address the consequences of climate change.
Blumenauer compared the absurdity of Trump declaring a “national emergency” to justify building a wall on the southern border to the real national emergency of climate change – 93 degrees in Anchorage on July 4, record heat waves in Europe (113 degrees in Paris), record drought in Oregon, flooding in Nebraska, wildfires in California. “The U.S. has only 12 years to reverse global warming. It’s time for Congress to understand this is an emergency and act like it,” he said.
But there is, in fact, a connection between the refugee crisis here in Europe, Syria, Africa, and Latin America. People are escaping the political and economic turmoil which has as a root cause the climate catastrophes that are leaving people destitute and desperate. By mid-century, it is estimated there will be 150 million climate refugees – dwarfing the record 66 million refugees today.
And that’s what the world has to look forward to – not in centuries or generations, not even in decades, but unfolding now.
Margaret Klein Fellerman, founder and executive director of The Climate Mobilization (https://www.theclimatemobilization.org/), said, “Global warming is accelerating and will cause the collapse of civilization this century if we fail to move toward zero emissions in years, not decades. A WWII-scale mobilization is necessary to reverse global warming and the mass extinction of species in order to protect humanity and the natural world from climate catastrophe.”
Alan Minsky, executive director of Progressive Democrats for America, said, “U.S. federal government leadership on this issue is necessary for the world. The U.S. has an outsized obligation, not only because we have the world’s largest carbon footprint, but also the balance of the world’s scientific research capacity and its brain trust. The American university system is unrivaled – the development of technology should be here.”
More than 700 governments in 16 countries have already declared a climate emergency, including New York City. And if there has been any progress in the U.S., which Wheeler credits to Trump, it is because 26 states and U.S. territories have formed their own United States Climate Alliance, committed to upholding the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. Collectively, they represent 50 percent of the U.S. population. If the U.S. air and water quality has improved and carbon emissions been reduced, as Trump boasts, it is because of their efforts, certainly not overturning Obama’s standards for car fuel-efficiency or coal plant emissions, or opening fossil fuel extraction on public lands. These are Trump’s only “policy” contributions.
The money is there.
Instead of spending $700-$800 billion on defense each year, $4.6 billion on for-profit prison companies that are starving and torturing children and parents in concentration-camp-like conditions, billions on royalties and incentives to fossil fuel companies, and $1.5 trillion more in tax-giveaways to the largest, most profitable companies and the top 1%, that money could be spent on research and development of clean, renewable energy technologies, new agricultural processes, conservation and low or zero-carbon infrastructure.
Apparently, defense is so bloated that Trump can move billions of it for his pet projects.
“It isn’t that we can’t address this problem,” Sanders said. “We know exactly what has to be done – massive investment in sustainable energy, energy efficiency, transforming transportation system. We know what has to be done. The problem is lack of political will. We have a president who is ignorant, dangerously ignorant, and a fossil fuel industry that is making billions today as we destroy this planet. We have to stand up to them and begin the process of transformation.”