By Patricia M. DeMarco
We, the people of 2022 are experiencing already the irreversible effects of global warming, global pollution and loss of biodiversity that herald the degradation of our life support system. Presented in the form of data, the statistics are frightening. Carbon dioxide measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory peaked for 2022 at 421 parts per million in May, now 50% higher than before the Industrial Revolution.
Most people notice incremental changes in the weather, and in trends in warming compared to recent past experience, but the gradual change does not cause a sense of danger for most people. The reality of the climate situation calls for an urgent transformative response, a Policy U-Turn. But the reality of the political situation portends the reverse of what is needed – a resurgence of regulation in favor of the fossil extractive industries. The oil, coal and gas magnates press for new investments based on hydrogen from fracked fossil methane and a further push for single use plastics to bolster the industrial petrochemical complex. These are false solutions perpetrated by short–term economic interests which, if pursued, will assure the even more rapid destruction of this living earth.
I want to scream in frustration at the misinformation and greed that perpetuates these disasters. I want to lash out in anger that so many in power refuse to see the needs of the people for now and for the future. I weep for what has been lost already, and for what will yet be exterminated from the face of the earth. Yet, out of this frustration, anger and grief comes a passion to intervene, to give voice to the solutions that are in hand, to organize for political action. This election. This summer. Now. Before it is too late.
No elected official would ever deliberately send hundreds of people into homelessness, but they decide that preventing wildfires is too expensive. No elected official would deliberately poison people, but every day decisions are made to allow uncontrolled pollution to continue in neighborhoods of marginalized people. We let injustice continue like a creeping blight –
- Air pollution spreads asthma to one in five adults and one in four children in Clairton PA;
- Chemical contamination spreads endocrine disruptors throughout the population until 93% of Americans have detectable levels of Bis-Phenyl A in their blood and a body burden of hundreds of synthetic chemicals in our bodies, even in newborn infants;
- Obesity afflicts 33% of Americans who live in food desserts;
- Water supplies in most major cities are contaminated with lead and other infrastructure failures.
The government has become powerless to change the laws to protect people now, and even less to protect people and other living things for the future.
If we were to govern FOR THE PEOPLE, the opinion of the majority of Americans clamors for urgent action on climate. “63% of Americans favor broad government action on climate. At a time when partisanship colors most views of policy, broad majorities of the public – including more than half of Republicans and overwhelming shares of Democrats – say they would favor a range of initiatives to reduce the impacts of climate change, including large-scale tree planting efforts, tax credits for businesses that capture carbon emissions and tougher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.” Even in the face of national opinion polls indicating that a majority of Americans believe that addressing climate change is important, Congress remains deadlocked. Inert. Ineffective. A few Senators, Manchin and Collins and McConnell, successfully block action on climate policy to protect fossil industry interests. Now the Supreme Court is eroding the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to rule on carbon emissions.
Local governments end up on the front line for dealing with the effects of climate change and protecting people where they live. Efforts at the local level can move forward a bit with climate action plans, however, for the sweeping structural changes from fossil fuels to renewable energy systems, there need to be changes in the underlying laws. This will not happen unless there can be a veto-proof majority of Senators willing to stand up for the future of our planet, for our children, and for the emerging industries of the clean economy: renewable energy systems; regenerative agriculture and permaculture; and circular materials management for consumer goods.
Many local and regional communities have put forward a vision for a better future critically needed to ameliorate the inevitable disaster that will occur if we continue on the current path. The ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint, the Marshall Plan for Middle America, internationally The Natural Step Framework, the German Energiewende and many others lay out a sustainable future. We know what the solutions are. We know they work. We need to amass the political will to make it happen. The laws of Nature are not negotiable: if we continue to add to the greenhouse gas burden in the atmosphere, we will experience global warming, ocean acidification and the consequences of ecosystem failure. Indeed, we are already seeing these effects beginning to accumulate.
We suffer from a failure to communicate effectively not only the urgency of the situation but the availability of the solutions. We cannot spare our children from the effects of climate change already in motion, but we can still shift to adaptations that can slow the progression and lead to a less disastrous fate.
What will it take to change the direction of the country? Earth Day 1970 brought 10 million Americans into the streets, the halls of Congress, the union halls, the city chambers to demand clean air, safe drinking water and protection from toxic chemicals. The Climate Convergence has mobilized fewer than five million, and the effort is scattered, fractured and fraught with infighting. Scientists leap to challenge, critique and shred each other, as good scientists do in the rigor of academic pursuit. But that very rigor of the scientific process is turned against the message in the public eye. The message of science is discredited successfully by pseudo experts and mouthpieces for the industry who cast doubt on climate findings and disparage the solutions by exaggerating minor flaws and disagreements.
We are indeed in a battle for survival as a species, as a civilization of Humanity. It is time to pull together and lift our eyes to what it is possible still to preserve for our children. It is time to see the vision of a finer future with a shared prosperity, equity and dignity for all people, a style of living that is sufficient but not profligate, where we can celebrate the richness of talent and spirit rather than race to consume and throw away more and more stuff we do not need.
Every election this November of 2022 presents a choice for decision makers and policy makers who will determine the fate of our country and our world. It is time for all of us in the science world, in the sustainability movement, in the arena of believers in the best that people can be to stand up and be counted. We need to make our voices heard and our demands recognized. Put climate on the agenda in the public debates. Build momentum to demand action on behalf of our children. Those who cannot vote yet are excellent ambassadors for climate change. We must stand for our youth and demand accountability from those in power or who wish to sit in seats of power.
And scientists- real ones – need to run for office and win.
 “Our Region’s Energy Future” Allegheny Conference Energy Task Force Report April 2022. https://www.alleghenyconference.org/energy-report/