As Impending Climate Catastrophe Grows, Young Activists Lead in Demanding Action!

By: Jack Kelly

The Latest Results and Assessments on Climate Change
Last year the United States was hit with 14 extreme weather events. Each caused damages exceeding $1 billion, killed a total of 247 people and cost the U.S. economy $91 billion dollars. These extreme weather events have more than doubled in the past five years and our climate experts are projecting that these events will become more frequent, more intense and devastating as a result of climate change.

In October, 2018, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we are less than 12 years away from the point of no return unless we make real progress starting now in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In November 2018 the U.S. National Assessment Report was published. This is a composite report of the findings of 13 government agencies that reviewed the grave threats posed by climate change to the nation. The report recommended a transitional target of 45% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050. 

An Unlikely Agent of Change Inspires a Global Youth Movement

It was against this backdrop that the United Nations climate change conference (COP24) met in Poland last December to discuss and establish a global strategy to address this global climate crisis. But no such strategy was developed. Instead the United States joined Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in watering down a response to the UN IPCC report. 

But in the final days of this conference something amazing happened. Greta Thunberg a 16-year-old girl from Sweden was given the opportunity to speak to the conference attendees. Greta had already inspired a European youth movement as a result of her actions on climate change. She would skip school to sit in front of the Swedish Parliament to demand action on the climate. Now she was making her first appearance on the world stage. Here is an excerpt of the short speech Greta gave at the conference: “We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not” Greta’s speech was captured in its entirety on social media and was re-broadcasted around the world. Since then, millions of students around the world have participated in global school strikes to protest political inaction. In the most recent global school boycott on March 15th, 1.9 million students boycotted for climate change in the United States; over 1,000 students Rallied in the Federal Plaza in Chicago.

The Green New Deal

In the United States, young environmental activists of the Sunrise Movement created a major stir when more than 150 staged a sit-in in House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi’s office demanding aggressive political action to address climate change. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old Democratic congresswoman from New York joined them and became their strong ally. In February she and Senator Markey introduced the “Green New Deal Resolution” in the Senate and House respectively. This document sets out an aggressive program for rapid transition to renewable energy, and a broad set of ideas on how society should be fundamentally rebuilt (systemic economic changes). Progressive Democrats will be adding specific programs and ideas for funding to this resolution. In the meanwhile, the resolution has become something of a litmus test for where Democrats stand on climate change, and something of a manifesto for the rising generation of activists.

As of Tuesday, March 26, 2019, the Green New Deal was voted on in the Senate. Although it was not passed, the issue of climate change will not be ignored in the 2020 presidential campaign. Every Democratic candidate will be asked where they stand in support of the “Green New Deal” and other radical legislation addressing this pressing issue.

Rachel, our Climate Justice Organizer and Administrator recently with Legislative Aides to both Senator Duckworth and Senator Durbin on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Senator Duckworth will be serving on the Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, spearheaded by the Democatic party, after a bipartisan proposal to enact a Climate Change Committee was blocked by the GOP. The CAPA Climate Group will continue pressing our senators and representatives to become “thought leaders” to acheive concrete legislation to address this climate catastrophe. 

Immediate Opportunities to Make Progress in Addressing Climate Change  

There are two initiatives that are now taking shape on a national basis that will make a significant impact in reducing carbon in the United States. The first is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act recently introduced in the House and Senate (H.R.7173/S.3791) This bill, if approved by both houses, would drive down America’s carbon pollution by as much as 40% over the next 12 years. Here is how it works. We would charge a fee on fossil fuels at the source of entry (be it mine, well or port) and then return 100% of this revenue to households as a dividend. With this policy most people receive more in carbon dividends than they pay in increased costs for fuel or other products. They will have more money in their wallets to spend in their communities. Meanwhile, energy companies and leading industries are motivated to pollute less and save money. In addition to reducing carbon by 40% this program will also result in 2.1 million jobs created over the next 10 years, grow the economy by $1.3 trillion over the same period and it will slow the climate warming hopefully to keep the planet under the 1.5 degree Celsius that is considered a critical goal. In the weeks ahead CAPA will be actively demanding our elected representatives vote to pass this Carbon Pricing Act in both houses of congress.

A Number of States are now Leading the Way to Creating a 100% Clean Energy Electricity System. Here is a brief summary of these states that have recently passed or are in the process of passing legislation to do so. 

  • California passed legislation to achieve 100% clean energy by 2045.
  • New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order calling for 100% clean energy by 2050. 
  • New York Governor Andrew Como followed suit in January with an executive order for 100% carbon free electricity by 2040.
  • Hawaii was the first U.S. state to pursue a 100% renewable energy, which cuts out other low carbon and risky technologies, most notably, nuclear. 
  • Maryland recently joined this elite club by passing legislation to be at 100% renewable by 2045. 
  • Illinois now has proposed legislation to be at 45% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by renewable by 2050. Illinois would be the first Midwestern state to be powered entirely by renewables. This proposed legislation has 45 State Representatives co-sponsoring and 27 State Senators co-sponsoring it as of this writing.

These initiatives would bring about the broad mobilization of our resources to address this global climate crisis.

Deniers and Unhelpful Legislators Must Go!

Trump and his cabal of fossil fuel lobbyists that are now serving as cabinet members must be defeated in the next election. They are taking destructive actions that accelerate planet warming. Just in the last two years the Trump administration has taken 67 initiatives to remove previous climate regulations or introductive new actions to permit drilling in the Artic, our national parks or offshore drilling in the Atlantic or Pacific coasts. 

The ‘Green New Deal” was gleefully pounced on by Republicans and their mouth piece Fox News as a “Trojan horse for socialism” saying it stands no chance of adoption. Well they can live in their dilatational little world for now. But we are here to remind them of Greta’s warning ‘‘we have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not’. Our youth will vote and as parents and grandparents, we will vote with them for more reliable legislators from Illinois and across the country.