A team of the world's leading climate scientists just released a groundbreaking report on what it will take to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). This report must be taken seriously and has significant implications for the future of American politics.
As expected, our worst fears were confirmed. To have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040 will require a level of political action that is harrowing and unprecedented in human history. Even if we hit this ambitious and near impossible target, the world is already seeing devastating floods, fires, famines, and storms. And the most daunting part: the horrifying effects outlined in this report are actually the best-case scenario.
Bottom line: The report shows that fossil fuels are a threat to civilization, and to address this crisis, we need governments to lead a massive overhaul of the global economy to get off coal, oil and gas — a transition that the report authors themselves say “has no documented historic precedents.”
The report is very clear: The difference between a 1.5 degree Celsius world and a 2 degree Celsius world are extreme, from there being fewer deaths from heat waves, fewer cities and island nations being sucked under water, and a chance of survival for coral reefs. This difference is not technical or economic. It’s political.
When basic decency and respect for human life are in short supply from the federal government, it’s hard to imagine our current administration suddenly taking this report seriously.
In 2015, I stood alongside AJ Alik from the Marshall Islands inside the halls of the United Nations Climate Talks where the Paris climate agreement would be signed. We chanted “one point five to stay alive” alongside other young people, desperately trying to grab the attention of decision-makers and journalists. This temperature limit literally meant life or death for AJ’s country and culture. Thankfully, the goal to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius was added in the Paris Agreement, and was the inspiration for this report by the world’s scientists.
After reading the report, I’m worried that the goal won’t be reached. I don’t know if we will save the Marshall Islands, New York City, Shanghai, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro or Bangladesh. I don’t know if we can prevent the coral reefs from dying. I don’t know if we can prevent the land my family has farmed in northwest Indiana for the past three generations from drying up.
On the bright side, the report does do something the Paris climate agreement does not: it mentions fossil fuels. More importantly, the report tells us that in order to keep warming well below 2 degrees, the global economy needs to phase out coal, oil and gas and double-down on zero-carbon energy sources.
On the same day the report was released, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden to have audience with pope, attend G20 summit Biden taps former Indiana Sen. Donnelly as ambassador to Vatican Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (D-Ind.) championed clean coal on a televised debate. The moderator said voters asked more questions about climate change than any other topic. (That’s right, in Indiana.) This is one of the most important races in the country this November, and the best our politics can offer is a Democrat supporting "clean coal" — a misleading tagline the coal industry spent millions creating to scrub the fuel source of its dirty connotation. After this daunting report, coal and all fossil fuels should now be synonymous with the end of civilization.
Looking past 2018, young people deserve more. Much more.
In this gloomy moment, it’s important to remember who is responsible for the climate crisis. We know that about 100 fossil fuel companies are to blame for 71 percent of global emissions. Decisions to power the global economy on fossil fuels, a product known to cause global warming, were made before I was born by fossil fuel CEOs and their lobbyists and more recently by billionaires like Charles and David Koch and the Mercer family.
We also know that if we are to do what is necessary to slow warming to 1.5 degrees, we must deny the Chevron and Exxon Mobils of the world $34 trillion in proven coal, oil, and gas that must be kept underground. All while President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone Trump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE pushes coal and gas development at home and abroad.
We are in for the challenge of our lives. And everything we love is at stake.
What gives me hope right now is young people. If we engage, millennials could easily destroy politics as we know it today. So far, young people have failed to translate the scale and urgency our generation feels so uniquely around climate change, student debt, and economic instability into the kind of political clout that would demand ambitious government action.
To ignite U.S. political leadership on climate change, we need a national project worthy of everyone’s attention that can mobilize millennials and those excluded from the political system to come out big in 2020. I believe the only way the U.S. is able to tackle climate change at the scale and speed required by science and justice is for young people to link arms around this country and demand politicians champion a government-led program to stop climate change and protect the common good. Many people have been calling such a program a “Green New Deal.”
A Green New Deal would be a bold, necessary and urgent national project that can meet the scale of environmental challenges facing the U.S. and help ensure our contribution to stopping climate change is met. This project will inject huge investments in communities, infrastructure, and technology to ensure the U.S. takes a huge leap toward environmental sustainability and economic stability, bringing job growth and economic opportunity to communities across America, especially those who have been left behind.
Young people can bring this country together around a national project the likes of which we haven’t seen since JFK dared to set our sights on the moon.
With a Green New Deal we can stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. It’s necessary, honest critics say it’s impossible, and it could just be the bold political project we need to heal the wounds of this country.
Garrett Blad is executive coordinator at SustainUS, US youth for justice and sustainability as well as a volunteer with the Sunrise Movement, a movement of young people electing a new generation of leaders who will reject campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and protect the health of our families, our climate, and our democracy.