November 25, 2020

Hope and Vote

Guest Opinion
By Cathye Williams | Oct. 24, 2020

With mail-in voting well underway for many, and a trip to the polls just days away for many more, the gravity of the outcome of this election is lost on no one.

Rhetoric abounds, some of which I’d like to see go. At the top of my list for expungement are the words “kitchen table” and “bread and butter,” often used by pundits to frame the basics issues that everyday people (i.e., not billionaires and corporations) care about, such as fair wages, decent housing, healthcare, and schools.

These quaint phrases fail to mention that not everyone gets the same bread and butter, due to the discriminatory barriers that have kept so many from a middle-class lifestyle (and its capacity to build wealth), for so long. The words also don’t conjure the images of the bread, the butter, and the kitchen table being swept away by flood or eaten by flame. In short, they ignore the broader existential threats of social injustice and climate change we are facing, to which every “bread and butter” issue is inextricably linked.

Fortunately, most people are getting the picture anyway.

According to a Pew Research Center survey this summer, a majority of registered U.S. voters say climate change will be a very (42%) or somewhat (26%) important issue in making their decision about whom to vote for in the presidential election.

Many elements account for this shift/continuing trend toward climate reality and concern. One obvious reason: Climate change is becoming harder to look away from. Tides are rising, storms are dumping more water, and heatwave records are being shattered year after year.

Another significant factor is likely the massive mobilization of youth activists around climate and justice issues that began after the 2016 election. After some early setbacks, grassroots groups such as the Sunrise Movement have been building their base, planning strategically, and forming coalitions.

The result? The Green New Deal — a resolution that aligns with the group’s mission to stop climate change and create millions of good-paying jobs while doing so — has over 100 co-sponsors in the U.S. House, several champions in the Senate, and was a frequent topic during the long and contentious presidential primary season.

The group has also held politicians to account, and influenced over 3000 candidates running for federal, state, and local offices to pledge to take no money from fossil fuel companies.

Most significant perhaps, is that the Sunrise leaders are becoming part of the coalition team the Biden campaign has assembled to help craft its climate plan. Biden’s campaign truly listened, and the resulting climate plan, while not as ambitious as the Sunrise group’s goals, is bold — much stronger than the middle ground most expected Biden to take.

If put into action during the four years of a Biden administration, the $2 trillion commitment to green jobs and infrastructure will be hugely impactful. Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash, in the "How to Save the Planet" podcast, predicts the enactment of the plan under Biden would force market signals, create a culture shift and a switch in U.S. politics, such that “we have no idea how quickly that could bring us to realizing the full vision of a Green New Deal.”

On the other hand, searching for candidate Trump’s climate change plan leads you to a one-pager with the following priorities: 1). Bolster the country's oil and gas industries and the supply and production of those energy products. 2). Continue rolling back Democratic environmental regulations.

Furthermore, the current president has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement and rolled back more than 160 significant environmental regulations, according to a study by Columbia University researchers. His administration also has acted to scrub any reference to climate across all federal government documents. Because Trump policies will likely lock in fossil fuel use for decades to come, scientists, according to a report by the BBC, fear another four years of Trump would make it “impossible to keep global temperatures in check.”

With or without the United States, the rest of the world seems to be getting it. Chinese President Xi sent shockwaves among the United Nations just last month when he announced his country’s ambitious target to be carbon neutral by 2050. This is astounding, considering that China is currently the world’s largest carbon emitter.

What is clear is that China, the EU, and other major global players do not agree with Donald Trump’s basic premise that reducing emissions will be ruinous for the economy. The reality is that the plummeting cost of renewables (already cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the world) will ramp up investments in clean energy and infrastructure, further driving down the price. The global race to clean power is starting, and if we do not choose leaders with vision and a plan, the U.S. will be left in the coal dust.

For a livable future, we need an executive who will listen to scientists and to the people. We need a Congress that will support a major federal climate initiative. We need folks at all levels of government who are beholden to voters; not to fossil fuel executives. There are Republicans who care about the climate and are working across the aisle to address the crisis.

However, it’s worth pointing out that of 3,000-plus candidates running for office who have taken the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, only 37 are Republicans.

Ask the questions, know where your candidates stand, and vote like your life depends on it.

Cathye Williams serves as a volunteer and media liaison for the Grand Traverse area chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, www.citizensclimatelobby.com. She writes from Benzie County. 

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