The climate movement is snowballing! Well, perhaps we should find another metaphor, one that doesn’t melt in the heat. Blossoming? Springing up? Taking off?
Whatever your choice of image, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the recent shift in how people perceive climate change. Technological advances are making non-carbon energy cheap and accessible. And political movement is disrupting many long-established obstacles.
But while there are reasons for hope, there are equally important reasons for action. No one should be complacent, thinking that innovation, market forces, and governmental action are unstoppable. We must push them along. We must do our part to accelerate the forces of progressive change.
We Californians are particularly hopeful now, as our legislature is in the midst of passing a package of twelve significant climate bills. Last week the Assembly approved SB 185, requiring CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from coal. And we are optimistic that this week the Assembly will pass the remaining bills.
There are many more reasons for optimism. Jill Pape of Greenpeace lists eight of them, including:
- Last year’s 800,000-person worldwide People’s Climate March, which was “led by the frontline communities most directly impacted. Global climate change disproportionately affects communities of color.”
- Pope Francis’s soaring encyclical Laudato Si’, which “reframed the international conversation on climate as a moral one.”
- The plunging costs of renewable energy: “In the last month, wind power hit an all-time price low, and solar power became cheaper than natural gas.”
- The upcoming People’s Climate Movement day of action, scheduled for October 14, which will pave the way for the international climate talks in Paris December 7–8.
Jonathan Chait of New York magazine, an astute observer of the political scene, is even sunnier, writing, “This is the year humans finally got serious about saving themselves from themselves.”
Though climate change is “the most dire threat to humanity, measured on a scale of potential suffering,” since World War II, he says, “the cost of transitioning away from fossil fuels, measured as a share of the economy, may amount to a fraction of the cost of defeating the Axis powers.” The problem is not money, but politics and psychology. Until recently, the long time-scale and disparate national situations have sapped urgency and bred “denial, fatalism, and depression.”
But that’s the past, and the times they are a-changin’. Chait sees the bright side:
There is good news. And not just incremental good news but transformational good news, developments that have the potential to mitigate the worst effects of climate change to a degree many had feared impossible. Those who have consigned the world to its doom should reconsider. The technological and political underpinnings are at last in place to actually consummate the first global pact to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with — by the standards of its previous behavior — astonishing speed. The game is not over. And the good guys are starting to win.
Now there is a real green energy revolution underway. As a result, many political leaders are beginning to take the opportunities as well as the threats seriously, beginning with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. “Both energy technology and cooperative international willpower, mired for years in stasis, have been set into furious motion,” writes Chait. “The willpower and innovation that have begun to work in tandem can continue to churn. Eventually the world will wean itself almost completely off carbon-based energy. There is, suddenly, hope.”
That doesn’t let us off the hook. Much remains to be done. First, right here in California, the Assembly plans to vote this week on two bills that set strong targets to reduce fossil fuel use, SB 32 and SB 350.
Here are some actions you can take now:
- Contact your Assembly Member in Sacramento to urge yes votes on SB 32 and SB 350.
- Rally at the Capitol in Sacramento in person for the Assembly climate votes (Thursday, September 10, 9:30 am, 3rd floor in front of the Assembly floor gate).
- Write Governor Brown to ask him to sign all of this year’s climate bills, beginning with SB 185, coal divestment.
It’s a big step to enact these California climate bills, but action cannot end there. We need to keep the pressure on state government (to divest from oil and gas, for example), on President Obama (to squelch the Keystone XL pipeline, for example), and on the Congressional majority (to stop acting like ostriches about climate change). Then there’s the People’s Climate Movement action on October 14, as well as the Paris talks in December—your participation would be welcome.
Hope is warranted, and change is inevitable—but action is essential.