The year 2019 is drawing to a close. Delegates from around the world are gathering in Madrid for the COP 25 talks. In his address to the attendees, UN Secretary General Guterres spoke about the failure of many countries to limit their emissions and to act with enough urgency. He warned that climate change is accelerating, and we may have reached “the point of no return.”
His words were a call to action, not surrender. He insisted that his message was one of hope, not despair, because we have the technology and the know-how to reverse these trends. What is lacking is the political will. “Political will to put a price on carbon. Political will to stop subsidies on fossil fuels. Political will to stop building coal power plants from 2020 onwards. Political will to shift taxation from people to carbon.”
It was a call to action to everyone. In democracies, political will comes from regular citizens voicing their concerns and directing their representatives to act. It comes from people asking their candidates to explain their plans for climate solutions, and to hold them accountable for their promises. It requires people understanding that climate impacts everything in their lives, from food prices and personal health to job security and property values – and supporting the solutions that are right at hand.
At the end of November, I heard from city leaders from all across the US at the National League of Cities annual meeting in San Antonio. City officials and mayors from Boise, Idaho, to Minnetonka, MN, to Plaquemine, LA, all had stories of noticeable changes in the lives of their residents based on changes in weather patterns. Republicans and Democrats alike spoke of crop losses and climate refugees, tourism and business impacts, and concern over insufficient funding for the US Forest Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and FEMA. They did not spend time debating the science of climate change — they worried about how to protect their residents, how to engage their constituents in solutions, and how to prepare for and mitigate climate impacts, here and now.
As 2019 draws to a close, I am reminded of the words of a sermon I heard recently about dealing with the despair and stress borne of today’s divided and challenged world. The pastor said it is a time for “strength, maturity, fierceness, and wisdom.” He encouraged us to be grateful for waking up with challenges, knowing that there is important work for us all to do. In the face of disaster and hardship, people struggle onward, buoyed by hope, encouraged by positive actions they see around them, and sustained by something unquenchable in the human spirit that can bring out the best in us, even in the toughest of times.
Now is the time to raise our ambition for solving our climate challenges, keeping environmental justice as a priority. Our Path to Positive Toolkit offers guidance to solutions for cities. And ecoAmerica will be raising our ambition at our American Climate Leadership Summit March 25, 2019. As 2020 approaches, our talents, our wisdom, and our collective action — including our votes! — are needed more than ever. We have been called upon for such a time as this. When historians look back on these times, I hope that future generations will laud our willingness to take bold action, and will see that nevertheless, we persisted. Let’s step boldly into 2020, together!
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