By Louis Merlin and Susan Kaye of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Mary Cassell of the Sierra Club
Every election season, voters must decide which candidates to support and which issues to prioritize. Currently, health care and the economy are top issues for many. In the past, homeland security and terrorism were prominent issues.
For some voters, particular issues such as gun control or abortion, reign supreme. However, regardless of past priorities, we must mobilize every voter regardless of party allegiance to put the climate emergency as their number 1 issue in 2020.
Why? To put it simply, this is no time to delay serious action on the climate crisis. The future of the human species is at stake. Right now, we’re on a slippery slope with each year getting steeper and steeper. We don’t know exactly what the point of no return is, but there’s ample evidence that we need a dramatic reversal in our current course.
To understand why the threat is so urgent, it helps to understand a little geology. Looking over the Earth’s history, the climate has often been unstable. The Earth has veered between extremes of hot and cold, ice ages with massive sheets of ice sweeping across continents and steamy ages with ocean levels 100 feet or more higher than today.
Human civilization emerged during a period of stable climate over the past 12,000 years, known as the Holocene. One reason we’ve been so successful in establishing agriculture and cities is because the stable climate that afforded relative predictability in the rainfall and stable sea levels for the past 12,000 years.
The Earth has experienced five major species holocausts. Hundreds of species went extinct in a brief period each time. All five mass extinctions were caused in part by abrupt climate change caused by factors such as increases in greenhouse gases (at least one was caused by a cold spell created by a huge meteor strike).
Why? Because the Earth’s climate is often unstable. When it gets hotter, it usually keeps getting hotter. When ice melts, the open ocean absorbs more heat from the sun. When permafrost melts, long-stored methane gets released, accelerating the climate change.
In other words, if we release too many greenhouse gases, we will reach a tipping point where the climate will grow warmer no matter what we do. There is literally a point of no return where Earth’s stable climate cannot be recovered.
Once we have crossed that line, massive and rapid changes would likely bring civilization to its knees. Once we are past this point, whether humans would survive in their current form is impossible to know.
So, what is this line of no return? Historically humans built their civilizations with a stable atmosphere of around 250 parts per million (ppm) of CO2. Many scientists say a level of 350 ppm is safe. The maximum limit recommended by the IPCC is 450 ppm. Already we have risen from a baseline of 250 to 413 ppm today and we are still rising about 2.5 ppm per year.
We must stop the rise of greenhouse gases across the entire globe and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.
In many ways, we have already crossed the line into an era of serious climate consequence. Although we have not yet passed the point of no return, we have passed the point where thousands of lives and billions of dollars of property and homes have been lost.
Unprecedented wildfires and more severe hurricanes are now annual threats. We have paid, and will continue to pay, for abusing the climate with lives and money.
The good news is that we have the technologies to make this shift. Solar and wind power are more affordable than ever, and electric cars are becoming more appealing. The technology of energy efficiency is improving all the time. Even better, switching to clean energy will result in millions of high-paying jobs.
Our challenges are not technical, but political. Fossil fuels are still cheaper than clean energy because it’s free to pollute. We need coordinated action across the world to address the challenge on a planetary scale.
This is the moonshot of our generation, but in many ways, the challenge is even greater, because we must coordinate across all countries. There can be no enemies or rivals when the fate of all humanity hangs in the balance.
While it’s true that in general, Democrats have been more willing to embrace climate solutions than Republicans, it’s not necessarily true that prioritizing climate means voting Democratic.
There are some Republicans who have led on climate and some Democrats who have ignored the issue. And there is not one single solution to the crisis. Some Democrats have promoted the Green New Deal, while some Republicans have promoted a carbon tax. But what we all must agree on is the urgency of the crisis.
So voters must demand that every candidate has a plan that matches the magnitude of the challenge. Every candidate should have a plan tied to specific carbon reduction goals. And voters must make it clear that climate is their top priority in 2020.
Our unity as a species is essential. We must prioritize the survival of our descendants over any venal short-term greed. If we love the environment, we are obliged to preserve it for future generations.
Email or call your federal, state or local officials and let them know you want the climate crisis to be their top priority in 2020. Let them know what you think is at stake and why we cannot delay. Attend candidate forums and ask for candidates’ plans for reducing emissions.
2020 is the year of consequence for climate action. Climate voters must be engaged to bring about the change our human species requires.
Louis Merlin is an assistant professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida Atlantic University and the Boca Raton chapter leader for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
Susan Kaye is a sales and marketing professional and CCL volunteer.
Mary Cassell is a fulltime Senior Librarian with Broward County Libraries. She is an assistant supervisor and coordinator of adult Literacy volunteers at the West Regional Library in Plantation, FL. She volunteers with the Sierra Club-Loxahatchee Group and is the current Chair. She holds a PhD from Florida Atlantic University in Educational Leadership & Adult Education.
“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.