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Moving into emergency mode on climate change

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No one is planning for the collapse of civilization, for food shortages, epidemics and mass displacement, but that could happen as the result of a major climate disaster. The vast majority of Americans move ahead with their daily lives as normal. Few actually consider the national, global and personal implications of the breakdown of our climate.

This is not something most of us want to pay attention to. It’s scary and overwhelming, so we leave it to scientists and politicians and focus on our careers, our families, or recreational pursuits. But the climate emergency is no longer a future threat; it’s here, and we underestimate it at our own peril. It’s devastating the Midwest, our bread basket, with flooding and tornadoes. It’s causing wildfires and melting Arctic ice at an unprecedented rate. A recent paper by Australians David Spratt and Ian Dunlop demonstrates how warming could cause the collapse of civilization by 2050.  

This is not easy information to process. Feeling overwhelmed and helpless can paralyze us or force us into denial. I get that. As a former clinical psychologist, I know that many of us want to do something — anything — to stop the climate crisis, but don’t know how.

This week, The Climate Mobilization joined a number of climate justice, environmental groups, professors, activists and celebrities to call on Congress to declare #ClimateEmergency. We’ve launched a petition asking Congress to wake up and move into emergency mode.

We need to eliminate emissions as quickly as possible — in 10 years or less, as some experts including Harvard University Professor James Anderson, believe. Andersen’s research demonstrates that the Greenland ice sheet, which is melting four times faster than originally assumed, alone could raise sea levels by 23 feet. Anderson emphasizes that we need to eliminate — not reduce — emissions at emergency speed and draw down excess greenhouse gasses to restore a safe climate.

The only possible way we could achieve this is through a mobilization of national resources, of our top minds and industry on the scale of our mobilization during World War II. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has called for a mobilization on this scale as part of the Green New Deal, and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recently supported the Green New Deal with a call for a WWII-scale climate mobilization.

During WWII, we faced the existential threat of fascism and mobilized together, and we transformed our economy incredibly quickly in order to protect ourselves. All hands were on deck. Women flooded into factories, and millions of Americans moved to a new state to work a “war job.” Families including children were also mobilized — and 40 percent of vegetables were grown at home, in “victory gardens.” The government laid down strong regulations, such as a ban on the production of new consumer cars. More than 37 percent of our gross domestic product was spent on the war effort.  

If the United States rises to the challenge of confronting the climate emergency, we can still “cancel the apocalypse” and begin restoring a safe climate and healthy society. The first step is telling the truth. We need a national acknowledgement that we face a climate emergency.

Our petition launches ahead of the first Democratic National Committee (DNC) debates, in which we are asking candidates to acknowledge the emergency. Some already have, though their proposed policies don’t necessarily demonstrate that they have internalized the concept. Despite the incredible work done by groups such as Youth Climate Strike, the Sunrise Movement and others, the DNC has refused to hold a debate focused on climate change. They still don’t get it.

We don’t have time to dilute the truth, regardless of how harsh it may sound at times.

The Climate Mobilization is an organization based on telling the truth about the climate emergency and advocating for the only solution that could protect humanity and the living world: WWII-scale climate mobilization. We have been advocating for mobilization for five years, and pioneering and spreading #ClimateEmergency declarations for two years. We have ushered in ideas around zero emissions and a national mobilization to address the emergency that many have refused to take seriously.

Fortunately, some around the world are getting it.

Today, more than 600 cities in 13 countries have issued climate emergency declarations. In May, the United Kingdom as a whole declared a climate emergency, following an extended protest by our allies, Extinction Rebellion. Canada followed this week, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s subsequent approval of the Transmountain pipeline makes it clear that the Canadian government is not ready to act in accordance with recognizing the emergency situation.

Last week, Pope Francis, in a meeting with major fossil fuel corporations, declared a climate emergency and warned them that failure to move swiftly against global warming would represent “a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations.”

Critics will say “declaring a climate emergency is just words. It doesn’t actually solve anything.” And this is true — declaring an emergency won’t, on its own, decarbonize anything. Governments need to not only “declare” a climate emergency, but to act with emergency speed and focus. It is troubling to see the United Kingdom and Canada make action commitments, along with their declarations, that are insufficient and dangerously slow.

But, we are just getting started. A few years ago, emergency climate mobilization was a marginal idea, and within five years’ time a vigorous climate mobilization movement exists. Words have the power to shift the paradigm, connect us, educate and provide momentum for the emergency response needed by Congress to reverse climate change and protect humanity. We urge everyone to join us.

Margaret Klein Salamon, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of The Climate Mobilization. Follow on Twitter @ClimatePsych and @MobilizeClimate.

Tags #ClimateEmergency Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Climate change Global warming Green New Deal Justin Trudeau Pope Francis The Climate Mobilization

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