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The climate emergency is a kick-start to create a better world

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The science is simple: The world gets warmer, ice at the poles and in places such as Greenland melts, sea levels rise, flooding increases. Warmer temperatures and additional moisture in the air magnify the intensity of hurricanes and monsoons. 

In June, storms in U.S. Midwest caused flooding from which many communities are still recovering. In July, a heat wave hit three-quarters of the nation, sending temperatures to 100 degrees or more for about a week in cities including New York and Boston. 

This month, the Washington Post provided an eye-opening scientific report on how our planet is changing. According to the report, “More than one in 10 Americans — 34 million people — are living in rapidly heating regions, including New York City and Los Angeles. Seventy-one counties have already hit the 2-degree Celsius mark.”

The climate emergency is not coming — it’s here. 

Every day brings examples of people dealing with a planetary challenge that affects their lives. The Amazon rainforest is burning. There are water shortages in India; a looming safe water crisis in Newark, N.J., that reminds us of the problems Flint, Mich., encountered; there’s a plan to build a seawall around parts of lower Manhattan.

These stories and others should frighten everyone and relay the urgency required to address the climate emergency threat. That we should be disturbed is only half the story, however. The other part of the story is that we must adopt new thinking to create a better world. 

As Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

Indeed, ideas are powerful. We’ve seen American imagination create brave new worlds, but in much of the media and entertainment that we consume, we must travel backwards toward a world of scarcity in order to save the world. This way of thinking frames our ideas of what is possible, or what transformative change will look like — and that includes framing these ideas for policymakers and government. So we’ve got to shift our thinking about this challenge.

Fortunately, in many places, it’s already happening.

As Yale University’s Climate Connection highlights, one innovative group in Santiago, Chile, is working to transform pollution into energy by making “its wastewater treatment plants generate as much power as they use.” 

Ethiopians planted 350 million trees in just 12 hours as part of their Green Legacy reforestation campaign, setting a world record, and in Wales an international plan is under way to “soak up the carbon dioxide produced since the industrial revolution began” by planting 1 trillion trees. In Costa Rica, after decades of intense deforestation, the nation has doubled its forest coverage from 26 to 52 percent since 1983.

Germany is setting a global example by planning to close all 84 of its coal-fired power plants and changing fiscal policy to provide $45 billion to fund the transition of workers out of the fossil fuel industry and into new positions. In Kenya, companies are cleaning ocean water with the aid of solar panels. Parisian builders are building an organic rooftop farm the size of three football fields to cool cities and counteract the overwhelming role of buildings as major emitters of greenhouse gases in cities.

Here in the U.S., New York City is implementing its Climate Mobilization Act, which “requires buildings over 25,000 square feet to cut climate emissions 40 percent by 2030 and more than 80 percent by 2050.” In Boston, companies are working on a new way to make steel, which, if successful, could set the stage for “cutting greenhouse-gas emissions from one of the hardest-to-clean sectors of the global economy and the single biggest industrial source of climate pollution.”

These examples represent a great start. Now, imagine what we can do as a nation if we all step up and mobilize on the scale of World War II to restore a safe climate and protect humanity and the living world. Imagine tens of millions of Americans ramping up renewables, retrofitting buildings and constructing a high-speed rail system, while switching to regenerative agriculture and growing a new type of “victory garden.”

Visualize a green economic engine strengthening communities, supporting workers and frontline and low-income communities, whether urban or rural, in an equitable and just way. Imagine an economy that works for everyone. The Climate Mobilization visualized this world in our Victory Plan, and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) recent climate plan has adopted many of the same ideas.

Our choice is to radically transform, or to collapse. Why not shift to a better world, in which everyone wins? This is not only possible, but a simple choice.

Five years after Hoboken, N.J., declared the first climate emergency in the U.S., close to 1,000 cities and jurisdictions have done the same, including most recently Austin, Texas — the first southern American city to do so. 

Our petition urging Congress to declare a climate emergency is gaining momentum. Led by Sen. Sanders and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the Senate and House will consider a concurrent resolution to declare a national climate emergency.

No other nation has the industrial and technical capability to lead on this issue like the United States. Either we’ll see beyond the politics of fear and denial and act, or we’ll allow our differences to keep us sitting on our hands while the planet burns. It’s a simple choice, to be heroes or to watch the future go up in smoke. We must choose wisely. 

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

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Climate change policy climate emergency Earl Blumenauer Emissions reduction The Climate Mobilization

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