Implore legislators to address new issues of climate change
President Donald Trump’s recent interview with journalist Piers Morgan does little to mollify Americans concerned about climate change; it doesn’t take a scientist to know that he hasn’t done his homework on the subject. As quoted in , Trump said, “There is a cooling, and there’s a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place.”
Time and time again, Trump has refused to address what will likely be the most consequential global issue of the 21st century, and many activists feel hopeless as a result. Nevertheless, this strange moment in history provides an opportunity for activists to stop and consider the best path forward for the climate movement.
The climate movement has never been an optimistic one. Documentaries that have shaped attitudes around climate change, such as “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Before the Flood,” often spend less time discussing solutions than discussing negative aspects of climate change. These include, but are not limited to, the worst-case, scenarios for our climate — dramatic increases in the number of deadly hurricanes, droughts and floods — as well as the fossil fuel lobby’s influence on preventing the passage of any climate-related legislation. These documentaries serve more as stern warnings than motivators for action. We get it; climate change is bad, as are the politics surrounding it, but what steps can we take to combat it on the scale required?
Politicians such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former President Barack Obama often talk about a future of 100 percent renewable energy. But, really, how do we get there? Without concrete plans, the general public may not sustain sufficient willpower over the next several decades to tackle climate change adequately. Other political issues may take precedence, and concern about climate change will likely fluctuate with time. It is only human to get distracted.
Therefore, climate activists in America must dedicate more energy to deciding which economic instruments our government should implement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They should look to laws set by, say, British Columbia, which places a fee on carbon emissions but offsets the burden through tax cuts elsewhere, according to . Building an American movement for climate legislation with the same vigor as, the “Fight for 15” movement to increase the minimum wage could signal to the rest of the country that climate change activists are not merely concerned about scaring the general public. Rather, it would show that they seek collective action around a realistic proposal.
This approach could also attract Republicans, who may otherwise be reluctant to join the climate movement. In truth, carbon fees do not have to involve sudden, dramatic government intervention. They can gradually rise, providing markets time to adapt, all without increasing the size of government — as demonstrated by British Columbia’s revenue-neutral carbon fee. Therefore, liberals can argue to conservatives that such proposals require minimum government control and can be market-based in nature. Once these ideas have greater popularity, more conservatives may realize that cutting emissions does not equate to a nightmare scenario of bureaucratic takeover.
Mobilizing a movement around action, rather than fear, makes it far more appealing to the human psyche. Often, climate change appears so horrifying that even the most progressive liberals may prefer to leave the issue on the shelf. Why would anyone want to think about climate change if doing so will just result in more fear and hopelessness? Therefore, illustrating a clear path forward is essential.
Installing collective agency is that path forward for both Democrats and Republicans. Constantly reminding citizens that they can pressure their elected officials to act could make a huge difference. Framing the issue as an opportunity to enact positive change could inspire people. Why not emphasize the lives that can be saved if we address climate change rather than the casualties that will result if we don’t?
In fact, there are currently two climate-related proposals in the Massachusetts Legislature, as displayed on the website . They intend to disincentivize carbon emissions, stimulate the green economy and compensate residents for price increases. This moment serves as a great opportunity to lobby around a particular cause and create a ripple effect to influence the whole country.
Obviously, legislation is not the only way to address climate change and will not solve it completely. All Americans can live more sustainable lifestyles; they can use less electricity, buy LED lights and/or eat less meat. Actions such as these can make a huge impact, but may not be as effective as turning our energy system away from fossil fuels. Lobbying politicians to implement laws will require greater collective mobilization. It will require us to shift from a narrative of blame and guilt to one of empowerment and action and to pressure governments across the country to implement laws that promote the long-term stability of our climate.