For 100 years the League of Women Voters has responded to injustice and assaults on equity and quality of life with non-partisan research, advocacy and education. That tradition continues in response to the unfolding disaster of man-made climate change.
After researching climate change, the local League and other like-minded community groups spoke in support of a Proclamation of Climate Emergency as proposed to the Gainesville City Commission by Commissioner Helen Warren, a League member. These supporters joined in accepting the signed proclamation at the Dec. 5 commission meeting.
According to the Climate Emergency Declaration Organization, Gainesville is but one of 1,247 jurisdictions in 26 countries to have declared a climate emergency. Margaret Klein Salamon, whose work inspired and guided the City Commission’s climate emergency proclamation, has described what an emergency response should look like.
Fossil fuels are replaced by renewable energy as rapidly as possible, ideally within a decade. Dangerous emissions already released into the environment are drawn down by planting billions of trees and preventing the destruction of those already thriving.
Biodiversity is preserved and a regenerative, rather than an extractive, economy is created. A successful emergency response will require governments, industries and citizens to rethink business as usual and focus attention and resources on solving the emergency.
Most challenging of all, an emergency response will require sacrifice. Technology will not save the planet and make institutional and personal sacrifice unnecessary, nor will the sacrifices of a majority compensate for the indifference or resistance of a few.
Salamon compares what is necessary to a “WWII scale climate mobilization.” During that mobilization, we drove less, consumed less, worked harder and produced more — not for ourselves, but in support of the war effort. In modern terms, we refused, reduced, reused, repurposed and recycled — and perhaps we felt more kinship with one another than before or since.
The climate emergency, however, is unlike the emergency created by the attack on Pearl Harbor and the German declaration of war on the United States. The enemy, rather than being dictators, is all of us from nearly every land. World War II threatened millions; climate change threatens billions
Dissimilar as well, at least as the third decade of the 21st century begins, is the federal government’s response. Protecting our nation and the world from tyranny was primarily a non-partisan issue in the 1940s. But protecting our nation and the world from rising seas, ever more violent storms, drought, fire, crop failure and loss of habitable land has become a partisan issue.
There is no national strategic plan. Policies that might have provided some protection from the ravages of climate change, such as those to preserve clean water and breathable air, have been reversed. Actions that threaten the environment are ignored or rewarded.
So how are those who recognize a climate emergency to respond? Individual action is necessary and useful, but insufficient. As Jamie Green writes in his introduction to “The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019,” “All the individual actions in the world cannot save us.”
Naomi Klein’s warning is even more stark: “the very idea that we, as … individuals could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system … is objectively nuts.”
More powerful, and not at all nuts, is joining an environmental organization and urging it to unite — or at least coordinate — with others. Attending meetings, showing up at marches and rallies, organizing educational forums, carrying signs, writing letters to the editor, providing financial support if you can afford it, speaking out; contacting legislators and signing petitions are ways of being heard over the hoarse shouts and ignorant arguments of the climate-change deniers.
Most powerful is staying informed about climate change’s effects and opportunities, finding ways to discuss these effects and opportunities with the unsure or disbelieving, evaluating candidates’ positions on the environment and voting for those who support policies devoted to the planet’s health.
In support of these efforts, the local League will intensify a non-partisan effort in 2020 to educate citizens about the need for bold action on climate and the local consequences of denial or indifferent and half-hearted action. In addition, we will provide a series of candidate forums so voters can judge which candidates stand with the earth and all life that depends on it. Watch for details.
Barbara Glass is president of the League of Women Voters of Alachua County/Gainesville.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.