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2019: The Year We Finally Started Taking Climate Seriously. Or More Seriously.
Most of us. Just not the people in charge.
Let's start with good news on climate: In poll after poll , large majorities of Americans say they agree climate is a major concern and that the government needs to do more to reduce carbon emissions. More than three-quarters of adults and teens agree that human activity is affecting the climate, and a majority think it's not too late to find solutions. Some people are shaky on the scientific details; a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll earlier this month found that
43 percent of adults and 57 percent of teens cited "plastic bottles and bags" as a "major" contributor to climate change, which is incorrect. That response may echo a recent burst of news media attention to plastic pollution in the oceans.
But the main point is that big majorities know that burning fossil fuels is heating up the planet, so if some people drive less and recycle more plastic, that's not a terrible thing. How's this for encouraging? Among Republicans, a majority of millennials and Gen-Z young'uns want more government action on climate, too. Baby steps -- teach your parents well, young Rs.
Among likely Democratic voters, climate comes right after healthcare on the list of top issues for 2020, after far too many years in which it was an afterthought. For the first time ever, cable networks held candidate forums on climate, and virtually all the candidates had serious plans outlining how they would get the US to net zero carbon emissions. Even Joe Biden, although maybe his plan was hurriedly stitched together after some initial reports that he wasn't going to offer an aggressive plan. The candidate with the most comprehensive proposal on climate, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, dropped out of the race in August, but declared his plan to now be "open source," encouraging other candidates to incorporate it into their own campaigns, which several candidates immediately did -- notably, Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro.
It's especially encouraging that virtually all the remaining Democratic candidates have adopted a key element of Inslee's climate rhetoric: You can't just wall off "climate" as an issue that you might address separately from everything else. It has to be a top consideration in everything the government does, because there's hardly any aspect of economic activity that doesn't have an effect on climate. And just about all the candidates' climate plans include an emphasis on jobs and environmental justice, because any serious effort to shift to a clean energy economy will have huge effects on jobs and communities.
Indigenous firefighters in Maranhão state, Brazil https: //www.flickr.com/photos/145872537@N06/39607504782
But it's not just California that's burning. Massive wildfires worldwide -- plus record heat waves, making July 2019 the hottest month in human history -- made the climate crisis very real to very many people. Vast parts of Siberia and Alaska burned, underscoring that the Arctic is warming even faster than the rest of the planet. The Amazon rainforest burned, mostly in Brazil but also in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru. Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro responded by getting into a pissing contest with France , which didn't provide enough moisture to affect the fires. Scientists warn that continued deforestation is likely to reach a tipping point: In the space of a few decades, a lack of moisture from the forests will transform the Amazon basin from rainforest to grassy savanna. Can't help but think that might have some global economic implications.
“I speak for the trees. They said f**k you.” #climatestrike #GlobalClimateStrike #dcclimatestrike https: //t.co/90uefWI3Vv
— Emily Holden (@Emily Holden) 1568990150.0
And people are pissed. The summer's climate horrors contributed to huge crowds at September's global climate strike, which built on weekly protests of young people inspired by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish girl who in 2018 started skipping school on Fridays to protest outside the Parliament building in Stockholm. For her role in catalyzing activism on climate, Time magazine named Thunberg 2019's "Person of the Year," making her the youngest individual recipient of that honor. Predictably enough, American rightwingers have focused their wrath on Thunberg, as if by calling her a witch, or "mentally ill" (she's been diagnosed with Asperger's), aliteral actress, or the tool of evil deranged parents, they can simply dismiss the climate crisis as the delusion of a single silly girl. (Who's probably being manipulated by George Soros.)
Focusing solely on Greta Thunberg, of course, misses the point entirely, which is that she represents the power of ordinary people to come together and demand a better world. The fact that she's one single-minded kid who's brought hundreds of thousands into the streets is what really worries protectors of the energy status quo. In addition to all the climate tipping points we worry about, it's just possible that we've finally reached a social and political tipping point as well.
At least we hope so. As this hottest decade in human history closes, bush fires are devastating the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria, leaving thousands of people sheltering on beaches . The Australian armed forces have been mobilized to help with evacuations and to provide aid, and images of blood-red skies during what should be "daylight" hours are all over Twitter.
Earlier this morning in Mallacoota. "A mother took this photo. Her two primary school aged sons are in the boat w… https: //t.co/838tChRBqK
— Sean Power (@Sean Power) 1577757542.0
Thousands of people fled to beaches in the south-eastern states of Australia as emergency-level fires spread… https: //t.co/DJVIXThSD0
— BBC News (World) (@BBC News (World)) 1577808570.0
This was looking back to the caravan park, as taken by my niece.. https: //t.co/mqziUifXXr
— Alastair Prior (@Alastair Prior) 1577768431.0
Batemans Bay CBD has lost power and is pitch black at 12.20pm. https: //t.co/cPry7nsBHL
— Andrea Cantle (@Andrea Cantle) 1577755786.0
Incredible - and frightening - photos are emerging from Mallacoota, a small town in the East Gippsland region of Vi… https: //t.co/L2ytHgl3eD
— The Sydney Morning Herald (@The Sydney Morning Herald) 1577751916.0
A friend just sent me these pics of her kids at the Bega Showground tonight. Haunting images like this will foreve… https: //t.co/5BWgNluh2V
— Carrick Ryan (@Carrick Ryan) 1577778423.0
Very Serious Fact-Checkers have reminded us that humanity isn't at risk of extinction, and we're not -- we may be at risk of civilizational collapse, is all. But damned if those photos and videos don't look like images from the end of the world.
It's time, as always, to get to work.
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