Anyone watch the Climate Crisis Town Hall CNN hosted the other day for all the Democratic candidates? I admit, I did not. Seven long hours was more than I was up for. But while I did not watch it, I got the highlight reel.
It was fantastic that several candidates talked about the importance of climate justice. It’s important because the ones who are hurt the most in the climate crisis are the poorest. Climate justice is not just about jobs, it’s about making sure that people can survive in heatwaves, get the healthcare they need when heat and humidity makes it hard to breathe, have enough tree cover in their neighborhoods to keep them as cool as those in wealthier neighborhoods, receive fair compensation for their houses when they are forced to move out of flood plains or away from the coasts. And of course, when the fossil fuel jobs and the infrastructure that supports fossil fuels goes away, everyone affected by that should be given opportunities to learn new skills and take new jobs that compensate them with a livable wage.
Some of the candidates didn’t seem to have a sense of the urgency of the situation. A slow, moderate approach is not going to work. It would work if it were 1990, but it’s almost 2020 and we are long past the point when we have time to make a moderate transition. Cap and trade? Seriously? A carbon tax, maybe, but that can’t be the main course of action. Nor can relying on business and the market; they are precisely the things that got us into this mess to begin with. And let’s not count on technology that doesn’t even exist yet to save us; we can’t wait five or ten years for carbon capture to reach the scale and efficiency necessary for it to even start to make a difference.
And Joe Biden, he took the cake in my opinion when he whined that China is a bigger carbon emitter than the U.S. so they need to step up too. Well yes, China currently emits more carbon than the U.S., but, if you look at carbon emissions over a bigger time frame than a year, the U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in the history of industrial civilization. And yeah, America might create “only” 15 percent of global emissions, but we make up a measly 4 percent of the world’s population. So the U.S. needs to stop blaming China for the very bad climate crisis situation in which we find ourselves.
Even Sanders and Warren, the two people who seem to grasp the situation the best, were disappointing. They, and all the other candidates, talk as if simply switching to 100 percent renewables is going to solve all our problems. They neglect to talk about how if we do not change our behaviors—consumerism, travel, diet, large houses—we will not have enough energy from renewables. Think about it. All the natural gas and oil that fuels factories, ginormous Google and Amazon and Facebook data centers, cars, trucks, tractors, office buildings, your home, all the things that need energy in one form or another, it is impossible to simply switch to renewables and continue to live, work and play as we do. Just spend some time browsing through the information at The Post Carbon Institute and, even better, listen to their Crazy Town podcast where they dive into the details of energy and economic policy as well as pull apart the technologies that are going to save us and why they won’t work.
I understand why politicians do not want to talk about how living a net zero life is going to mean a radical change for everyone; it’s scary and hard and no one wants to be a downer or tell Americans that they can’t eat steak every day or own a car that they drive all alone 60 minutes to and from work five days a week.
But someone needs to start telling the truth.
It’s not going to be politicians. It’s going to be the journalists and climate scientists, nonprofit groups like The Post Carbon Institute, and children. How sad is it that a sixteen-year-old girl from Sweden has a clearer understanding of what is truly at stake than the people who are running for President of the United States?
So while I appreciate that CNN devoted 7 hours to talking about the Climate Crisis, and while I appreciate that all the Democratic candidates running for president have plans and are talking about them, they need to do better. They need more aggressive plans, they need bigger vision, they need to convey urgency to everyone in this country and other industrialized nations, they need to act and not just say words that sound good, and they need to tell the truth.