This Election, We Can’t Afford to Ignore the Climate

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This Election, We Can’t Afford to Ignore the Climate

As the seas rise, presidential candidates are arguing over whose wife is hotter.

(Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr)

Our great coastal cities could be flooded within the lifetime of children born today.

That’s the conclusion of researchers studying the West Antarctic ice sheet — a mass of ice larger than Mexico that could rapidly break apart over the next century.

Meanwhile, our presidential candidates are debating who has bigger hands and whose wife is hotter.

For Americans who care about the environment, there’s a lot at stake in 2016 — from green jobs to clean water to a habitable climate. Even if the media isn’t focusing on these things, we can’t afford not to.

Presidential candidates need to be questioned much more aggressively about where and how the United States gets its energy. As energy consumption around the world increases, our current use of fossil fuels is unsustainable. That’s why it’s critical that we accelerate the transition away from dirty fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas to clean — and increasingly affordable — energy sources like solar and wind.

Already, communities across the country are talking about how to do this. Dozens of cities across the United States and the world — including San Diego, Paris, and Sydney — have committed to transitioning their cities to 100 percent clean energy. Would the presidential candidates make a similar pledge?

There also needs to be a serious discussion about making sure the air we breathe is clean and the water we drink is safe. In Flint, we saw what happens when communities are neglected and infrastructure crumbles. It’s an environmental justice disaster that should serve as a wake-up call for the entire nation.

In fact, there are Flints across the country. More crises are inevitable if we don’t put the right safeguards in place to protect vulnerable communities from pollution. Presidential candidates should be pressed to explain how they’ll make these crucial infrastructure investments happen.

Finally, there needs to be a serious debate about how to address the looming climate crisis. 2015 was the hottest year on record — and it’s only going to get worse.

If left unaddressed, the climate crisis will be devastating to the economy, agriculture, and cities in every state. From pushing for states to implement the Clean Power Plan to advocating for the shuttering of dirty power plants, towns across America are taking this issue into their own hands. What would the presidential candidates do?

Americans are not just tackling the obligation we have to act. Many of us are also embracing the opportunities that are available when we do.

The clean-energy economy is skyrocketing, creating jobs all over the country as the cost of opting for wind and solar power drops. Indeed, the amount of electricity produced by wind and solar has tripled in the last decade.

The solar industry is creating jobs at 12 times the rate of the overall economy, and wind is now our nation’s No. 1 source of new electricity. In many places around the world, wind and solar are cheaper than oil, coal, and gas.

The progress is almost impossible to ignore. So we must ensure that the presidential candidates don’t.

With so much at stake, it’s time for the people running for president to stop slinging mud and start focusing on what matters. How will they help lead the transition to clean energy? How will they make sure our air is clean and our water is safe? How will they address the climate crisis?

Americans are already talking about it. It’s time for politicians to join them.

Aaron Mair

Aaron Mair of Schenectady, New York, is the president of the Sierra Club's board of directors. An epidemiological-spatial analyst with the New York State Department of Health, Mair's experience includes more than three decades of environmental activism and over 25 years as a Sierra Club volunteer leader, where he has worked diligently for environmental justice.

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