New Thinking for a New Year


2018 has been full of grim climate news. 2019 could be the year cities turn this around.

2018 HAS BEEN FULL OF grim climate news. There was the October Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which said we have a dozen years to cut carbon emissions in half to avoid catastrophic climate change. In November the U.S. National Climate Assessment showed that long-dreaded impacts of a warming world – monster storms, devastating droughts, rising seas – are now a current reality. Just this month we learned that carbon emissions are again headed in the wrong direction, after a few years of leveling off, and the U.N. climate talks closed in Poland without much progress toward reversing these trends.

But 2019 could be the year we turn this around. That will require a new approach to climate leadership, motivated by concern for health, justice and equity. And, importantly, it will require us to stop thinking that climate action pits the future against the present.

We will have to see climate change differently from the way the media typically presents it. As Charles Lane wrote recently in The Washington Post, “It’s not easy to persuade citizens of a democracy to accept real financial sacrifice in the here and now for the sake of a diffuse benefit in the future.” But this perspective misses the real and present danger of a changing climate – to our health, our economy and our personal safety. And it misses the benefits that climate action can bring to our cities right now.

2019 could be the year of the climate pivot, where we mobilize around the immediate dangers of a warming world and the immediate benefits of actions to limit climate pollution.

Consider this: When young people from low-wealth communities are hired to insulate homes in their neighborhoods, greenhouse gas emissions fall, people who have been excluded from economic opportunity on the basis of race or ethnicity have opportunities to build wealth, and residents have their monthly utility bills reduced, stretching each paycheck further.

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