Beyond Paris: Finding the Courage to Face the Climate Emergency
Last weekend in Orlando the platform committee of the Democratic Party added language into their platform acknowledging the official position of the Democratic Party to be that we are in a global climate emergency. Further, the platform acknowledges the scale of the threat to be so large that it will require a leadership response from our country on the scale of our national mobilization to confront the threat of fascism during WWII. The platform language I offered through an amendment entitled, Global Climate Leadership, explicitly acknowledges that anything short of that will bring catastrophic consequences to civilization:
Democrats believe it would be a grave mistake for the United States to wait for another nation to lead the world in combating the global climate emergency. In fact, we must move first in launching a green industrial revolution, because that is the key to getting others to follow; and because it is in our own national interest to do so. Just as America’s greatest generation led the effort to defeat the Axis Powers during World War II, so must our generation now lead a World War II-type national mobilization to save civilization from catastrophic consequences.
Adopting this language in our platform is courageous. It is bold. It could be said that with the declaration, the Democratic Party has actually stepped out in front of the climate movement in its articulation of the threat, which it seems worthy to note, is appropriately placed as the closing paragraph of the entire platform.
It is my hope that this offers an entry point - a new beginning perhaps, from which we chart our path forward.
"Like a parent fighting for the life of their child, we cannot turn away, we cannot flinch."
There are two components of this path forward. One is policy. We spend most of our time debating that. The other is the path of connection; of connecting to and reckoning with the truth of what it is we are facing. To find the courage to explicitly and viscerally connect to the depth of the crisis we find ourselves in as human beings in July of 2016. Until we do that – our policy will be inadequate.
As Hitler marched, the world felt connected to the threat of the Axis Powers and thus unified in agreement in the urgency and scale of our response. Our country was connected in both horror and resolve after the bombing of Pearl Harbor; clear on what was at stake and determined to do everything in its power to fight for our way of life.
Yet everything we live and work for is under siege right now – but we don’t see it. It’s ephemeral. Vague. We relegate the climate emergency to a surprise attack, even though it’s not a surprise. We are under attack right now, yet we look away, and return to other things - to our daily lives. And the days pass, and the carbon rises, and the earth heats, and the future holocaust becomes more and more impossible to hold off.
Our priority must be to stay focused, steadfast, relentless and honest in the pursuit of that clarity. To use our tremendous capacity to think and to feel—to reckon with the whole truth—with courage. Like a parent fighting for the life of their child, we cannot turn away, we cannot flinch.
Our representational government with power checked and balanced through its branches moves slowly. It’s designed to. One would have thought though, that in the 30 years since our Congress first began to confront the reality of a warming planet, when in 1986 Senator John Chafee (R-R.I.) and newly elected Senator Al Gore (D-TN) held hearings on the subject of “Ozone Depletion, the Greenhouse Effect, and Climate Change,” at least one branch of our government would have come to reckon with the existential threat of climate change. But it has not.
And now—we are in an emergency situation. We can no longer pretend that our normal system and timelines of government are adequate to meet the moment. The window for gradualism has closed. We are out of time. Business as usual politics, irresponsible mainstream media coverage and a distracted citizenry will result in catastrophic consequences.
I expect you just read that last passage and moved immediately beyond it.
It’s too much to hold. And so we blink - and move on - back to gradualism. Clinging to the false hope that somehow what it is that we always have done will work this time. It’s our own type of denial. No - certainly not denial like the Republican climate deniers – but, nonetheless, a dangerous denial.
We must step inside. We can and must rise to this moment. Imagine your children’s lives. Step inside that. Become your child - not today - but in 30 or 40 years. And, as your child – ask yourself—“Mom? Dad? What happened? Why didn’t you do something?”
Can you step into that? And, can you stay there? Because if you do - if we do, if we step into that truth, and stay there – we’ll know what to do.
The Democratic platform now contains language that brings shape to the enormity of the climate crisis, and thanks to Sander’s Policy Director Warren Gunnels, climate leader Bill McKibben, filmmaker Josh Fox and many others begins to point towards policy that we must implement if we are to transition away from fossil fuels and begin to draw down carbon sharply on the path to 100% clean, renewable energy and zero net greenhouse gas emissions.
We got as high up on this particular part of our climb as we could – and we put down a marker. And for that, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Senator Bernie Sanders and the millions of voices of the political revolution. It does not mean it is enough. The policy falls short. But that’s not what party platforms are for. That’s what movements are for.
Now – we must recognize where we are – and climb higher. Much higher. And fast.
We are in an emergency. There is no time for gradualism. We must mobilize.