Have you seen Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth?” If so, you will understand what you are about to read. If not, you must go. Your life depends on it.
From this day forward we, the authors of this column, understanding the destiny of our planet will be irrevocably determined in the next ten years or less, pledge to endure all hardships and make any personal sacrifices needed to help steer our nation toward a clean energy future and away from the climate chaos and destruction fast approaching from global warming. We will go without food. We will go to jail peacefully and repeatedly. We will surrender any and all comforts and privileges in the coming weeks, months, and years in the name of climate justice and clean energy. And if you love your kids, you will join us to the maximum extent of your ability. Right now.
Expert scientists, journalists and government leaders tell us that we have perhaps 10 years or less to arrest the alarming buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Unless we act now, we face many decades of highly destructive storms, major droughts and wildfires, disastrous sea-level rise, a significant slowing or stopping of the Gulf Stream, the spread of tropical diseases to new regions, massive numbers of environmental refugees, tremendous economic damage and more-in a phrase, climate hell. We must dramatically reduce our use of oil, coal and natural gas and do so now!
Who believes that we have 10 years or less to make this clean energy revolution happen? Al Gore is one. James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies is another. Pulitzer-prize winning author Ross Gelbspan thinks that we need 70% reductions in greenhouse gases “yesterday.” An international task force reporting to Tony Blair concluded in early 2005 that we could reach “the point of no return in a decade.” And the list goes on.
But do we in the United States have the social and industrial capacity to retool our lives and our entire economy in just ten years? The answer is a resounding yes. How do we know this? Because we’ve done it before! In his book, Plan B 2.0, author and visionary Lester Brown looks at what happened in the United States right after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack:
“The year 1942 witnessed the greatest expansion of industrial output in the nation’s history. A sparkplug factory was among the first to switch to the production of machine guns. Soon a manufacturer of stoves was producing lifeboats. A merry-go-round factory was making gun mounts. . . The automobile industry was converted to such an extent that from 1942-1944, there were essentially no cars [for commercial sale] produced in the United States.
“This mobilization of resources within a matter of months demonstrates that a country and, indeed, the world can restructure the economy quickly if it is convinced of the need to do so. In this mobilization, the scarcest resource of all is time. With climate change, for example, we are fast approaching the point of no return. We cannot reset the clock. Nature is the timekeeper.”
What will it take for the United States to make the conversion to clean energy in time? How can we develop the political will for a clean energy revolution to save the environment and civilization?
One fundamental answer is found in the historic words of early twentieth century labor martyr Joe Hill: “Don’t mourn, organize!” We need local organizations, climate emergency councils, in every nook and cranny of U.S. society, in schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, religious institutions, unions and other associations, government bodies. This is already happening; it needs to be dramatically accelerated and expanded.
This movement must begin to act right now, this year, next year, every year in a way commensurate with the urgency. When the next Katrina-like hurricane lashes our coastline, there must be nonviolent civil disobedience at the D.C. headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose leadership denies and suppresses the growing scientific link between global warming and more frequent and more destructive Category 4 and 5 storms. Officials in Congress who do not support strong legislative action on this issue should be visited by constituents who refuse to leave their offices until they change their position. Oil and auto industry CEO’s must be made aware of the anger many of us feel at their obstructionism and foot-dragging when it comes to moving rapidly to clean energy and clean cars.
And we must retain our sense of urgency. We can’t let the pressure of the daily grind subvert our determination to step up to the plate, day after day, on this most fundamental of issues, the very survival of the ecosystem upon which all life depends.
Will future generations praise us or curse us? What we do in 2006, in 2007 and the next few years will provide the answer.
Mike Tidwell is a founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and director of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council. Ted Glick is a co-founder of the Climate Crisis Coalition and coordinator of the U.S. CEC (www.climateemergency.org).