There is no way to sugar coat this.
The prospects for limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees – – the level that many nations have agreed is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate disruption – – dimmed significantly with the election of Donald Trump.
As David Roberts wrote in Vox.com, “We won’t stop at 2 degrees. We’ll be lucky to stop at 3 or 4 degrees…Under unified Republican leadership, progress on lowering emissions in the US will halt and reverse, and US participation in international efforts to combat climate change will cease.”
For those who think that’s an overreaction, consider what Trump has said, promised and already done. He called climate change a “hoax.” He has repeatedly vowed to cancel the Paris Climate Accord. He has taken steps to move forward with the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. He promised to block the Clean Power Plan, a federal rule to reduce CO2 emissions from the US power sector. He boasted he will boost US coal production, although he’s offered no concrete proposals. He tapped Myron Ebell – a man who has questioned whether extreme warming is happening and whether it is due to burning fossil fuels – to lead transition planning for the Environmental Protection Agency. He put a prominent energy industry lobbyist named Mike McKenna, whose clients include Koch Companies, Southern Company, and Dow Chemical, in charge of transition for the Department of Energy. And he appointed Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, a man whose career has been devoted to undermining that agency and the laws protecting our health and climate.
It’s still early in the new administration, but Congressional leaders have made no secret of their intentions. In the last session of Congress, bills were proposed to: block the EPA from taking action to limit greenhouse gas pollution; undo the Clean Power Plan; block funds for climate research and reports; prevent federal agencies from using the cost of climate change in decision-making; block implementation of federal rules to better protect headwater streams from surface mining; create short-cuts around environmental review process for polluting industries; require citizens to post a bond before objecting to logging projects on federal lands; oppose a new Clean Water Rule; and allow burning trees to count as a carbon neutral source; among other proposals. Since the election, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has repeated his determination to make rolling back climate regulations a top priority.
For now, the fate of the Clean Power Plan remains uncertain. Implementation of the rule was frozen by a temporary order imposed by the US Supreme Court in February. The DC Circuit Court heard oral arguments in the case challenging the rule earlier this fall, and is expected to issue a ruling at any time. Depending on the DC court’s decision, the rule could go into effect, or all or part of it could be overturned. In either case, the DC court’s decision will likely be appealed to the US Supreme Court. Of course, what happens there depends greatly on whether there are 8 or 9 Supreme Court justices at that time.
All of this paints an uncertain but deeply troubling picture for anyone paying attention to the urgency and difficulty of this moment. Yet we know despair isn’t an answer. It’s not even an option.
Kentuckians won’t stop working to build a powerful, diverse movement for a just transition to a clean energy economy. We will continue organizing and pushing forward to make progress wherever possible. We will stand in solidarity with other movements for justice, equality, and survival. We will strengthen alliances and relationships to advance a shared vision. And we will powerfully resist harmful and unjust proposals.
Right now, today, there are important openings for organizing and movement building. In April 2017, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth released the Empower Kentucky Plan, describing Kentucky’s best opportunities to create jobs, improve health, and address equity and just transition while doing our part for the climate. Within the plan are scores of recommended actions, including:
- We can push our local utilities to expand energy efficiency programs, especially those that benefit low-income residents.
- We can stand shoulder-to-shoulder people on the frontlines – – here in Kentucky, North Dakota, Flint, and beyond – – working to protect our water, air, soil and climate.
- We can demand that our universities, schools, local governments, and institutions invest in clean energy solutions and support them with information and expertise.
- We can ask legislators to remove barriers solar energy in Kentucky and level the playing field for local and community owned renewable energy.
- We can demand a just transition for affected workers and communities – including passage of the RECLAIM Act and Miners’ Protection Act.
- We can support leadership of groups led by young people and people of color, and show up in support of their work for climate, economic, and racial justice.
- We can help build sustainable, equitable local food economies; demand more affordable and energy efficient housing; and expand access to high quality and energy efficient mass-transit.
- We can inform ourselves, engage deeply with our neighbors, allies and faith communities, confront hard truths, and generate shared interests and vision together
It’s important to note that each step we take to expand energy efficiency and renewable energy – including those mentioned above and many others – can generate important local benefits, in addition to reducing the risk of harm to our climate. These strategies and other strategies can be drivers of new jobs, improved health, thriving local economies, greater economic security for low-income and working people, and more broadly shared political will.
Of course, some progress towards building a clean energy economy can and will continue, regardless of who holds political power or what organizing strategies we pursue. Market forces are already driving a rapid shift to natural gas and renewable energy in many parts of the US, and to a lesser extent investments in energy efficiency. But those trends alone are nowhere near what’s needed to avoid climate catastrophe, advance a just transition, or ensure that low-income communities benefit from the new clean energy economy.
The need for a visionary, bottom-up, diverse and powerful movement for the good of people and our planet has never been greater. Here we go, together.