Like everyone else, I have spent the last two weeks trying to wrap my head around the results of the presidential elections.
Without a doubt, Donald Trump’s election is a huge setback for this country’s efforts to come to grips with our changing climate and threatened natural environment.
Among my colleagues at NYER, there is a range of political opinions, but we are clear on the primacy of science, and everyone’s need for a healthy environment. The vast majority of the scientific community has been sounding an alarm for years that if our planet is to support future generations, we have to change course now, especially when it comes to fossil fuels.
For the time being, this country’s incoming leadership refuses to acknowledge the profound importance, and compromised state, of our environment. In light of that, here are five things that I am personally taking to heart as we head into 2017.
To be clear, these are my opinions, based on what I’ve learned as a reporter and as a person.
I really hope you’ll send us your feedback. And we’ll do our very best to keep covering the environmental issues — like air and water quality, trash management & recycling, energy supply, and climate resiliency — that impact readers in the metro area.
1.) We are not alone — there is a global environmental movement
There is not enough media coverage of the fact that people of all backgrounds are engaged in important environmental work across the world. You can hear their voices and stories from organizations like Greenpeace International, and news outlets like Democracy Now, which reported directly from the U.N. climate talks in Morocco last week.
There are a myriad of important and useful ways we can support — and be a part of — the global environmental movement in the next year.
For starters, citizens of this country can contact incoming members of Congress, and the new administration, to voice their opinion on whether the U.S. should remain an active participant in the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, and its 2015 Paris Agreement.
“Will that accomplish anything?” a friend said to me the other day. Well, the alternative is that we remain silent as the Trump administration tries to pull the U.S. out of the global climate accords. Consider this: 48 nations — including Bangladesh, Ethiopia and the Philippines — promised to “rapidly move to 100% renewable power” at the UN climate summit last week, the Guardian reported.
It’s worth noting that significant public resistance to the Keystone Pipeline paved the way for the Obama administration to squash it, and, yes, this battle may very well be fought again.
(There are more ideas on what we can do below.)
2.) The majority of the American people accept the reality of climate change, and want to address it.
According to a Gallup Poll earlier this year, 65 percent of Americans now say that increases in the earth’s temperature over the last century are primarily attributable to human activities, rather than natural causes.
This represents a “striking” 10-percentage-point increase in the past year and is four points above the previous high of 61 percent in 2007, Gallup reports.
64 percent of U.S. adults told Gallup they are worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming — the highest reading since 2008.
3.) The facts, and science, will have the last word.
According to an analysis released this month by the World Meteorological Organization, the planet just had its hottest five-year period on record, with 2015 claiming the title of hottest individual year, which will be beat by 2016.
“The effects of climate change have been consistently visible on the global scale since the 1980s,” the WMO reported, pointing to “rising global temperature, both over land and in the ocean; sea-level rise; and the widespread melting of ice. It has increased the risks of extreme events such as heatwaves, drought, record rainfall and damaging floods.”
The WMO singled out Superstorm Sandy as one of several “high-impact” global weather events whose likelihood was increased by climate change.
The October 29th, 2012 storm caused the deaths of 43 New York City residents and created $19 billion in economic damage in the five boroughs. Sandy had a ‘storm tide’ over 14 feet above Mean Low Water at the Battery. Fifty-one square miles of New York City flooded during the storm, 17 percent of the city’s total land mass.
4.) Local action is going to matter — a lot.
Some of this country’s most populous states — like California and New York — are moving ahead now to cut carbon emissions, and transform their energy supplies. How much will it matter? I heard a participant at the U.N. climate talks last week argue that local governments in the U.S. could accomplish half of our carbon reduction commitments, as per the Paris Agreement, without federal support.
In the next 14 years, New York State is planning to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, relative to 1990 levels. And the State says that half of New York’s electricity will come from renewable energy sources by 2030.
The State’s long-term goal is to decrease total carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. The City of New York has similar goals, and says it is looking even further ahead to a 100 percent carbon free future, along with zero waste to landfills by 2030.
Undoubtedly, there are many hard questions to be asked about how, for example, the State is reconfiguring our energy markets, and whether New York City can get to a zero waste future. But, we are arguably on the road.
5.) Building an environmentally sustainable society will be a long, challenging process, but we already knew that.
Building a truly sustainable society — which is not a net drain on the planet — could take generations. That was true before November 8th, and remains so.
And as quixotic as it may seem, we know that it’s worth it. Every child — and every adult — deserves a fighting chance at a decent life, which will not be possible on a degraded planet.
How can we participate? Here are just a few suggestions that show the wide range of actions (personal, and as part of a group) that we can take:
- call your senators and congresspeople and tell them what you think about retaining the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and the Clean Power Plan.
- support candidates at all levels of government who share your views on clean energy, waste reduction, and strong protections for air and water
- better yet, run for public office yourself!
- get involved with and/or donate funds to national environmental advocacy organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and 350.org; and local groups like Environmental Advocates of New York and the NY League of Conservation Voters.
- talk with your friends, neighbors and co-workers about climate change, and share fact-based information
- participate in community meetings with local officials about issues like cleaning up polluted waterways and climate resiliency planning. If you live in NYC, these meetings are often sponsored by your local community board
- learn about ways to reduce energy and water use, and generate less trash at home
- participate in a neighborhood clean-up day
- talk with the children in your life about environmental issues
- you tell us — what can people do?
Finally, here are some interesting thoughts from Randy Cohen, who used to write The Ethicist column for The New York Times Sunday Magazine. In November, 2008, a Texas woman wrote to Cohen for advice because her neighbors had decided to lease their land for gas drilling, and she was under pressure to join them.
“For environmental reasons, we strongly oppose this drilling,” the woman wrote on behalf of herself and her partner. She asked Cohen if holding out, while all her neighbors went ahead, was a futile, meaningless gesture.
Cohen responded, in part:
“It is understandable that you feel powerless in the face of community-wide sentiment…but you should not sign the lease…
To fail to resist what you see as injustice simply because you fear that you cannot win the fight assures the very defeat you dread.
If nothing else, this is a short term view. Political struggle is long. Even if you lose the first battle, you fight on, and by resisting from the outset, you shape the conditions of that struggle.
The most potent argument for your declining to sign what you regard as a devil’s bargain is this: It violates your own principles…Ethics concerns our actions, not just our arguments.”
And so this next chapter in our history begins. As this post was being finished, President Obama moved to prohibit any new oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, one of his last actions before leaving office.