It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope.... – A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens, 1859, p. 1)
Charles Dickens’ opening to A Tale of Two Cities seems uncannily relevant this January. It’s been a cold and dark month; it’s been warm and bright. It’s been rife with setbacks; it’s been filled with progress. Our darkest shadows have been revealed, our greatest potential uncovered. For those of us working in America to protect and heal our climate, the present period strains for comparison.
Rather than turn fatalistic – or rest on our laurels – it’s time to reset, apply lessons learned, and manifest new goals. It’s time to shift the storyline of climate change to solutions and success.
It is the worst of times...
President Trump has been in office for just over one year, and according to ecoAmerica’s recent American Climate Perspectives survey (Fery, Speiser, Lake, & Voss, 2018), some worrying signs are emerging. More than 1 in 3 Americans believe there’s nothing we can do to stop climate change – an 8 point increase (from 28% to 36%) from last year – and 1 in 4 believe the costs and sacrifices of solutions are too high, a 9 point increase (from 34% to 43%). Not only that, more Americans support oil and coal than a year ago – up by 5 points for oil (from 42% to 47%) and up 7 points for coal (from 30% to 37%).
We have experienced a series of setbacks in 2017, including opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, removing climate change as a national security threat, and more than 30 federal environmental policy rollbacks.
And all the while our climate is changing, fast. Last year was particularly tragic with climate change-exacerbated extreme weather – storms, floods, fires, droughts and freezes – that pummeled countries, states, cities, and people’s health, wealth, and wellbeing globally.
It is the best of times...
America is waking up to climate action. Local governments nationwide, along with major corporations and large institutions are pledging to honor the United States’ commitment to the Paris Agreement, despite the United States withdrawal. From We Are Still In, to America’s Pledge, Ready for 100, and others, many American leaders are committing to climate action.
Clean energy deployment is rapidly accelerating. Solar power was the largest contributor to new electricity generation last year, contributing 47% of the newly installed renewable power capacity. Wind power is accelerating just as fast, and together, wind and solar have gone from virtually nothing to 10% of America’s electricity supply according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The cost to produce solar energy has fallen below the cost to produce coal and gas, making solar the fiscally attractive option. Automobile manufacturers have begun competing for electric car market share. And China, the UK, France, Norway, and others have all announced bans on new fossil fuel vehicles in their countries by 2030 or 2040.
Americans want climate action, and to act on climate. Despite the uptick in support for coal and oil in 2017, support for clean energy tops the list, by a large margin. According to ecoAmerica’s 2017 American Climate Metrics Survey, a burgeoning constituency of Americans are taking action on climate, and want their local and our federal government to do the same. Majorities are also seeing the personal benefits solutions will bring to their health (67%, up from 58% in 2015), the economy (64%, up from 53% in 2015), and jobs (61%, up from 53% in 2015).
We have everything before us...
Action taken today can change the trajectory of climate change. It can improve lives in cities and towns, nationwide and worldwide. Committing to lead on climate, to do what we can to reduce our impact, and use the power of our leadership to voice the need for – and benefits of – climate solutions is one of the most pressing opportunities of our era.
There is immense power in people coming together from all walks of life – health professionals, faith leaders, and regional and city leaders as well as individuals and corporations, people of all ethnicities and backgrounds – to take the reins on climate leadership. Major institutions in health, faith, communities, education, business, and culture are committing to reduce their climate impact and advocate for solutions. Their leadership inspires tens of millions of Americans on climate change, in counties and communities nationwide including in our heartland.
And we can do more. We can nurture new leadership and take advantage of the growing accessibility of climate solutions like efficiency, clean energy, and restoring nature. We can share our learnings, best practices and resources with each other, to help us all go farther, faster. We can make the benefits of climate solutions visible and tangible by implementing them at a local level, engaging Americans in their daily lives. Most of all, we can share loudly a new vision on climate, one that eschews cost and sacrifice and embraces investment, benefits, and a moral responsibility to our children and future generations.
ecoAmerica can help. We help by providing strategy, tools, resources and collaboration opportunities to increase climate literacy, engage constituents, and build collective action and advocacy for climate.
To that end, we have started a new Talking Points series covering key questions and topics on climate. We will continue to publish our monthly American Climate Perspectives survey. Our Recommendations Report, from the American Climate Leadership Summit, identifies dozens of opportunities and priorities for climate action and advocacy. Let’s Lead on Climate is our guide with stories and recommendations on building climate programs at a local level, and our Let’s Talk Climate series offers comprehensive guides for communicating on climate. Finally, we are and will continue to find ways to bring the best research and practical guidance forward to help us all to be more effective.
2018 is our opportunity to forge a path to positive on climate.
"If our federal leadership won’t take up the mantle, the rest of us must. It’s up to us. We have to make the great transition happen now. And we can do it."
- Bob Perkowitz, President, ecoAmerica