With COVID-19 resurgent in the South and West and the president trying to provoke a race war, ho-hum problems like the existential threat posed by the climate crisis are taking a back seat.
The climate crisis, which is in part caused by human activity, is an oncoming flaming train, combining public health, economic and political catastrophe into one, long-known nightmare.
Last week, the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a report that outlines federal policies that could help to fight climate change.
The report begins with ambitious — and necessary — goals. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we must reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net carbon-zero by 2050.
The report includes “12 pillars” under which policy ideas are grouped. They include investment in clean energy innovation, modernizing manufacturing, supporting smart infrastructure investment and encouraging energy technology.
The pillars also include policies to make communities more resilient and strengthen public health, protect public lands, waters and the ocean, and help the agriculture sector become more sustainable.
Finally, the pillars include a strong social justice component that talks about the need to invest in U.S. workers and create a fair economy and to invest in communities that are disproportionately impacted by the changes brought on by pollution and the climate crisis.
“Maine’s environment is inextricably linked to our economy,” Rep. Chellie Pingree said of the report. “I’m proud that after years of inaction, Congress has turned the page on climate denial. … The Select Committee on the Climate Crisis’s groundbreaking report calls on Congress to take targeted action to mitigate the effects of the crisis and to build a more durable and equitable clean energy economy.”
Since taking office in January 2019, Gov. Janet Mills has made fighting climate change one of her top priorities. In the current COVID-19 world, it’s hard to remember the before-times, but the governor spoke to the United Nations and set aggressive goals for Maine to do its part.
Mills signed an executive order committing the state to carbon neutrality by 2045, and that our energy would be 100 percent renewable by 2050.
The governor also created the Maine Climate Council, which makes it clear that addressing climate change is part of the way we recover from the fallout of COVID-19, not something that’s put on the backburner to be dealt with later.
“This is why Maine adopted some of the country’s most ambitious climate change and renewable energy goals. These remain urgent during COVID-19, as we strive to understand how the pandemic may affect our climate future, and how Maine can recover from the significant economic disruption it has caused,” the council says.
In her speech to the United Nations, Mills laid out a challenge to the rest of the country – and perhaps even the rest of the world:
“And if our small state can do it, you can. We’ve got to unite to preserve our precious common ground, for our common planet, in uncommon ways for this imperative common purpose,” Mills said.
With Democrats in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the country is catching up with states like Maine and finally taking climate change seriously.
“As climate pollution reaches unprecedented levels, our federal leaders must make climate solutions a top priority,” said Anya Fetcher, state director for Environment Maine in a press release. “The Select Committee report is … a bold blueprint at a time that requires bold action, and many of the policies overlap with the recommendations presented to the Maine Climate Council only two weeks ago.”
The United States must act urgently to combat COVID-19. More than 130,000 Americans have died already, and the worst looks yet to come.
The climate crisis, too, puts our country and its people at real risk, with implications that simply can’t be ignored.
When it comes to putting good science to work, we have to be able to focus on more than one problem at a time. If we’re smart, we’ll adopt policies that can help on both fronts.
David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.