by Kermit Hovey
How can we make sure the United States survives the climate change emergency our society is careening through?
First, it might help if everybody would recognize there is a climate emergency.
This painful reality no longer hides in obscure evidence packed scientific papers. It screams out from increasingly vivid news reports. Yosemite burns as droughts and wildfires become a year-round multi-year new normal. Water systems and fire fighting resources get taxed to the limit. Normal activities of daily living let alone sporting events and work routines get derailed across the country and world as temperatures zoom towards triple digits and beyond.
Highways, railroads, runways, trains, and planes literally and figuratively buckle under the added strain of record breaking heat. Forecasts see more record breaking to come – all the more so if we don’t clean up our act, clean up our energy and clean up our air.
A common pushback from those minimizing the climate change challenge claims that activists and advocates exaggerate and hyperbolize. I liken this to a train hurtling down the tracks at full speed. Engine churning, wheels spinning, passengers seeing nothing but smoothly rolling countryside. Tragically, miles ahead a bridge has been washed out, easily out of sight and out of mind for everybody on the train. Is this.an emergency? Is this a crisis warranting immediate, timely action? Yes, especially when those who pay attention to such things as track conditions report it to the train crew. Delay, denial, and dismissal guarantee disaster.
Second, it might help to declare the climate crisis to be an official national emergency.
As of today some 39 countries around the world have made climate emergency declarations. Sadly those have so far seemed more useful as “virtue signaling” than anything.
Nevertheless, President Biden continues to consider such a declaration for the United States. Such a formal declaration would actually temporarily activate executive powers that could speed significant actions.
No doubt a concern weighing on White House deliberations is that doing so could trigger partisan attacks claiming “government overreach” as well as political backlash that might ultimately derail those actions.
Third, It definitely helps if we all take actions that address the climate crisis and the emergency it represents.
Fortunately, in recognition of this emergency, even without formally declaring it, Biden has recently announced significant actions to protect the climate. Insufficient though they may be, they move us in the right direction.
We all can act – as individual citizens, consumers, and members of diverse groups and organizations. Through surprisingly connected opportunities, actions and areas we can build a comprehensive solution.
If Congress doesn’t lead, then maybe the Common Council can. If the government drags its heels, then maybe creative enterprise and free market discipline can get the business sector to pick up its pace. Every step, every increment of change forward, makes things better.
Examples and opportunities abound.
We who recognize the climate crisis as an ongoing and growing emergency can support candidates for government office who do also. We can support them when in office with expressions of encouragement and direction, even that we endorse a declaration of climate emergency. We can support them getting in office with donations, campaigning, as well as voting in the August 9 primary and the November 8 general elections.
We can support with our business those companies that recognize the emergency and do their part to not contribute to it. We can further demand those that do contribute to it change their behavior or lose our business.
We can use companies that provide goods and services to address the climate emergency. Especially intriguing is the new BlocPower (BlockPower.io) which offers “smart, all-electric heating, cooling, and hot water systems to building owners for no money down.”
We can support and protect our urban forest individually and collectively. That includes calling Alders and other officials of the City of Middleton to protect our community’s trees from the Spongy Moth (formerly Gypsy Moth) invasion (see the July 2022 Middleton Review).
We can support a vibrant, energy efficient multi-modal transportation system. Locally, that includes the City of Middleton’s Complete Streets plan. Regionally that includes expansion plans for Amtrak service to Madison as reported in area media earlier this year.
We can recognize the heightened risks of damage from climate change induced extreme weather events as we support government efforts to not only finance and build resilient infrastructure but to set appropriate building codes, zoning requirements, flood maps and more.
We can shift the purchasing priorities and policies of our individual households as well as of our governments. In particular we can require the less polluting, more environmentally friendly option to be the default rather than the specially justified exception (e.g. electric vehicles as the norm, gas guzzlers as a justified exception).
One person, one sector, one action is not enough. The climate emergency invites all of us to do what needs to be done, big and small, to sustain the livable climate we need to survive and thrive.
NOTE: See the Washington Post’s “Climate emergencies in other countries have been ‘wholly symbolic,’ activists say” at https://wapo.st/3OxdRdy for more details of the climate news items behind this column.
An earlier version of this post appeared in the Middleton Times Tribune.