For decades now, the difficulties in addressing climate change have been multifaceted—involving economics, national security, and even technological feasibility. Today, much has changed, and all that stands in the way of climate action is political will. But the situation is dynamic, and progress is slowly being made.
Movement on climate is happening both internationally and throughout the country, and many are now pointing to four key signs of hope:
- Decreasing prices of renewable energy are driving a shift away from fossil fuel consumption, giving consumers options for more sustainable, and often cheaper, sources of energy.
- Fossil fuel consumption in developing countries is far below earlier projections, and many in the developing world are investing in renewables at rates that exceed developed states. This unexpected trend suggests that through climate action, dire predictions can be proven wrong.
- Internationally, there is a strong political consensus that action must be taken, and leaders are slowly warming to the notion that steps to address and mitigate a changing climate are needed.
- This coming December a new round of international climate negotiations will take place in Paris. Expectations are high that this time, and there is careful optimism that a robust climate deal may be reached.
So what are city leaders to do? The potential to make progress on climate solutions begins with local action. Pressure from community groups must be increased, mayors and sustainability directors must commit to renewables and sustainability, and leadership to empower communities must be prioritized to drive climate solutions forward. Through action, leaders can put their communities, and the country, on the Path to Positive!
Here on planet Earth, things could be going better. The rise in atmospheric temperatures from greenhouse gases poses the most dire threat to humanity, measured on a scale of potential suffering, since Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany launched near-simultaneous wars of conquest. And the problem has turned out to be much harder to solve. It’s not the money. 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. Rather, it is the politics that have proved so fiendish. Fighting a war is relatively straightforward: You spend all the money you can to build a giant military and send it off to do battle. Climate change is a problem that politics is almost designed not to solve. Its costs lie mostly in the distant future, whereas politics is built to respond to immediate conditions. (And of the wonders the internet has brought us, a lengthening of mental time horizons is not among them.) Its solution requires coordination not of a handful of allies but of scores of countries with wildly disparate economies and political structures. There has not yet been a galvanizing Pearl Harbor moment, when the urgency of action becomes instantly clear and isolationists melt away. Instead, it breeds counterproductive mental reactions: denial, fatalism, and depression.
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