It Starts Now
By Ken Berlin
Millions of Americans will remember January 20, 2021 as the day the nation got a new president and our first female and Black vice president.
For us in the climate movement, the day is significant beyond even Joe Biden and Kamala Harris taking office. It’s the day the planet got a new chance. The day our future got another chance.
Even in the wonder of the day, let’s be clearsighted: The challenges facing the Biden Administration are massive. Ending the spread of COVID and getting families and workers back on their feet. Confronting the climate crisis looming over our tomorrow. Finally tackling the persistent legacy of racist policies and long-simmering inequities that deny too many Americans of color even basics like clean water and air. And as we saw on January 6, facing violent extremists and White supremacists committed to undermining our very democracy.
Each on their own would be enough to swallow four years of a presidency. Together, they pose an existential threat on a scale we haven’t seen since the 1940s. But as Robert Frost famously had it, the only way out is through.
Through starts today.
The science that frames our climate challenge has the virtue of clarity: Effectively cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieve 100 percent clean energy generation by 2035. End the sale of internal combustion vehicles and reach a net-zero economy worldwide by 2050.
The alternative is a future where climate catastrophe becomes an existential threat to our civilization. Miss even the first deadline and we miss our chance to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees and keep this world-changing genie in the bottle. We won’t get another chance.
Needless to say, a lot has to happen between now and 2030 to give us a shot. It will take a massive transformation of the nation’s (and world’s) power sector driven by a just and equitable transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy. A shift from gasoline-powered to electric transit. Re-thinking our homes to be as electric-powered and efficient as possible. Implementing regenerative policies across the agricultural sector. All in ways that create good jobs and revitalize communities. That open the door to opportunity for people of color and poor families and ensure all Americans drink safe water and breathe clean air, no matter where they come from. The list goes on.
Which is why we have to start now. Realistically, we have 18 months before the political calculus of an election year blinds politicians to long-term vision and derails any truly ambitious policy yet to emerge from Congress. Eighteen months, that is, to begin the whole policy and economic transformations that can save our future.
No pressure, of course.
There is good news. We know the policy levers to pull that can start this revolution and get us to the society-wide emissions cuts and net-zero economy we need in time.
This is where you come in.
If ever there was a time the world needed activists to force policy changes through, it’s now. It’s 2021. Which is why we’ll be asking you to join us in working to pressure the Biden Administration and Congress to think big and act boldly in five targeted areas:
- A Just Transition to Clean Energy: Set the nation on the path to reaching 100 percent clean electricity by 2035.
- Zero-Carbon Transportation: Invest in the vehicles and public transportation that get us from A to B without polluting our air or destroying our planet.
- Climate Justice and Public Health: Aggressively address the pollution hotspots killing Americans right now and ensure we all have clean air, safe water, and a healthy community to live in.
- Building Green Communities: Bring affordable renewable energy and climate-smart homes to all Americans, with priority for low-income families and frontline communities.
- International Leadership: Re-enter the Paris Agreement with an ambitious commitment to climate action and bring nations together to accelerate a global just transition.
Some we know are just in sight. The administration has notified the UN that the US will be re-joining the Paris Agreement and in 30 days, we’ll officially be back in. Others – like remaking our electricity sector – will be harder.
Hard, but not impossible. Not if Americans come together to fight like our world depends on it.
So our message is simple: This is your year to make a difference. Your year to stand up and speak out over and over and over again. Because this is our year to seize the moment. Our year to begin a just transition to clean energy that halts rising temperatures and puts millions to work in good green jobs. Our year to put this country on the path to a truly equitable and sustainable future.
We’re going to be asking you to join us in this effort over and over again. Because we need your voice and your power. The world and future generations need your voice and your power. We have a window to act and create the world and future we want. It may be the last one we get.
We’ll be asking for your help in 2021. We hope you’ll answer.
Ken Berlin is the president and CEO of The Climate Reality Project.