The silver lining of climate change

Happy climate month everybody! Three recent events in the news will help us mark this unofficial occasion in American politics. First, the Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump announced the rollback of methane regulations to lend a hand to oil and gas companies. Of course, nothing says “clean air” more than a good methane leak.

Second, Hurricane Dorian has pummeled the Bahamas and evacuated much of the southeast coast. The Economist recently quantified how climate change makes hurricanes more severe, noting that “rising levels of greenhouse gases” are “driving up sea surface temperatures,” and in turn, “warmer oceans mean more intense and longer lasting storms.”

Third, Trump stated that he has never heard of a Category 5 hurricane. His denial in the face of fact replicates the strategy of most climate deniers. Perhaps he should take his head out of the tar sands and look out the window to see more frequent and intense hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, storm surges, sea levels, heat waves, cold snaps, and water shortages. The world is becoming a disaster movie with a cast of billions.

Thankfully, we do have a few things to celebrate during this unofficial climate month. We will have two major presidential candidate forums on climate change. CNN will feature conversations tonight with each of the candidates on their climate plans. Later this month is a climate forum at Georgetown University, where MSNBC will interview the candidates.

Meanwhile, the United Nations will convene a key international climate meeting, called the Climate Action Summit 2019, which coincides with the General Assembly in New York at the end of the month and the release of the next climate change panel report on the warming oceans and melting glaciers. Many of the Democratic presidential contenders will continue putting out aggressive climate plans, allowing us a potential preview of what climate action might look like under a different administration.

Much of the credit for this month of climate attention goes to young people whose futures depend on convincing those in power that we cannot wait to act. They are here and ready to hold us all accountable for achieving real climate action. Even if the Democratic National Committee did not vote for a climate debate, the candidates were forced to address the greater debate on climate because of pressure driven largely by young people, and two televised forums resulted from these efforts.

Youth activist groups are organizing a daylong strike across the United States to demand that adults take action on climate change. Youth climate activists, led by activist Greta Thunberg, who is visiting the United States from Sweden to share her urgent call for climate action, will hold a global strike this month to call for climate solutions and demand that we hold fossil fuel interests responsible for their impacts to our planet.

What Thunberg and the youth activists are asking for is pretty simple. Listen to the science. It always bears repeating that according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the premier global authority on climate, we have about a decade to make significant changes and emissions reductions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

It is because of youth activists and the science of climate change that we are going to spend this month of the presidential campaign focused on climate action. This issue will remain central in the election debate, and all candidates will be forced to face it. That is because the movement is working, and we are setting the stage for strong climate action to come.

Climate change is still going to usher in a front of dark clouds on the horizon, but as long as we are looking for the silver linings, we can face this global crisis with hope and action rather than fear or despair.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.

Energy and Environment