Put climate change on the front burner

June 4, 2017

Some thoughts on President Trump’s decision on the Paris Agreement, and how those who disagree with it should respond:

  1. Politicians and public officials—including Democrats—have treated environment as a lower-tier issue, since forever. The Dems need to embrace this issue, create understandable messages about it, and then relate those messages to jobs, growth, and health—and contrast those positives with the shrinking opportunities and threats of dirty energy. The false dichotomy of jobs or environment should be destroyed with real data. The message? Positive. Focused on jobs, growth, and acting on behalf of people everywhere. New energy is better than old energy; growth of our economy and environmental stewardship are compatible; it is in the national interest of the United States to remain a leader on climate change. For example, in 2016 there were more than twice as many jobs in solar energy than coal jobs and more than 100,000 jobs in wind energy, according to the Department of energy.
  2. The nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) need to quit talking to each other, broaden their outreach, and mobilize people. Just one NGO, the Natural Resources Defense Council, had more than $125 million in revenues last year. It and other well-heeled environmental NGOS need to seize the moment created by the Paris decision and reach out to other groups, identifying and mobilizing labor unions, churches, universities, teachers, corporations, and others. And the environmental NGOs need to harmonize their efforts, rather than competing for the same dollar donations from the same people.
  3. There needs to be a Women’s March equivalent that champions climate resistance and fills the streets with climate change believers. Again, that march should be tied to simple messages about how addressing climate change will improve the lives and support the interests of most citizens.
  4. Bipartisan leaders with moral authority should sponsor a Climate Convention to organize, create, and sustain political action, locally and nationally. This is important. There needs to be a trusted face of climate resistance. This would be a great role for Joe Biden and, ideally, a conservative who is prepared to assume a leadership role in the climate change fight. It needs to be an everyday, full time job, and NGOs should coalesce around and coordinate their actions with this initiative.
  5. The media need to get off their collective ass. Like the politicians they cover, the news media treat climate change as a third-tier issue. It is anything but. Coverage by the networks on this issue before the election was virtually nonexistent. Media need to report the truth, knock down the false claims about the Paris Agreement, and educate the public that sustainable economic growth and sensible regulation of carbon dioxide can go hand in hand.
  6. State attorneys general and NGOs should file suit to block the rollback of Environmental Protection Agency regulations that the Trump administration has proposed. States will need to take leadership on climate issues and coordinate their efforts to fill the gap left by federal regulation. State regional compacts have shown how this can work effectively.
  7. Business needs to ramp up funding partnerships with environmental NGOs that are working to combat Trump’s climate policies. Business should continue to publicize its green success stories. Pension funds and other large investors should increase pressure on companies to make sustainable and climate-friendly investment choices. American business has little to lose domestically but, being global, lots to lose if other countries impose sanctions or carbon taxes on US companies or products. Ceding leadership in this critical area to China and others would be a huge loss for American business.
  8. Great universities with money and environmental programs need to be more visible and more active. If this really is a fight for the future of the planet—and it is—it’s time for more than letters from college presidents on these issues.

Climate is a national security issue. Just ask the Pentagon. The US needs to be at the table, engaged, and leading, not hiding in some fairy-tale world based on fantasy not science.

Enough with business as usual. Climate needs to get truly front-burner treatment. The movement to address climate change needs more focus and organization and well-known faces to lead it, and it needs coordinated, sustained media coverage and “in the streets” initiatives to drive the message home to average Americans.