Climate Crisis Turning Point Turns to Action

By Debbie Gibbs


The road to change looms as a long march, not a 50-yard dash. Remember when respected journalist Walter Cronkite called upon America, in 1968, to show honor, negotiation skills and to live up to its pledges rather than to measure the Tet Offensive and other Vietnam War skirmishes in terms of ultimate victory? After seeing Cronkite’s February 1968 critical newscast on the war, President Lyndon Johnson said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the country." He had to redefine his role in light of that sea change.


Recently a similar iconic media moment occurred when Chuck Todd, moderator of Meet the Press, devoted his entire December 30 program to the Climate Crisis—a first for the popular Sunday News show.  At last, the media is directing serious public attention to the consequences of global warming. A moment of measured thinking had arrived, of honor and living up to long-term pledges rather than defending outmoded positions.


The climate crisis news is everywhere--droughts, fires, hurricanes, and reports of species extinction. Public polls show that the majority of Americans believe the climate crisis is real. 


According to a December 2018 Yale poll, more than seven out of 10 Americans now say that global warming is “personally important” to them, an increase of nine points since March 2018. We all care and are concerned--for our children, our species and the globe’s other species that are gravely endangered.


The climate crisis has few equivalent issues, except perhaps the nuclear arms race, which threatens to erase life as we know it.  Fortunately, diplomacy appears to be keeping the atomic apocalypse at bay.


While climate crisis is potentially as destructive as nuclear war, action is much more difficult.  The needs are vast, with so many moving parts, intertwined not only with policy but with our economy. The deep crisis remains a few years out, so it just gets put on the back burner, while more immediate problems take center stage.


Sensing whether we have made any progress in this long march seems overwhelming for the majority, while a minority of the population continually takes action—globally, nationally, statewide and locally. The solutions, particularly involving public spending, are extremely challenging but certainly worth tackling.


Simultaneously, we should not underestimate the power of individual action to compel change.  In the United States, a stalwart consumer nation, our individual actions get attention from sellers.  If we don’t buy it, they stop making it.  Some examples of consumer-led successes: Gas guzzling cars are shunned by most, many decline to purchase food with GMO’s, and we now bring our own reusable bags to the grocery store. 


And…drum roll….Reuters reported on March 10, 2017 that Americans now drink more water than soda, according to research from the Beverage Marketing Corp.


Once informed, we make purchasing and lifestyle decisions good for us and for the world as a whole.  So, if we become informed and put resultant decisions on steroids, we can attack climate change one dollar at a time. 


Please know that running out to buy solar panels and electric cars is not required.  These are great choices, but often out of reach, based on the budgets of most households.  Instead, the adoption of everyday practices that reduce our carbon footprint and instruct or inspire others to reduce theirs. Collectively, we can begin to send a message and perhaps propel a larger movement to act with honor.


Just as President Johnson faced a turning point and a dire choice, so do we. If history looks kindly upon us, it will be due to both policy and industry shifts as well as our personal roles and commitment to simple choices. Future citizens will benefit most from our conscientiousness.

Recent Posts

California governor signs historic climate bill


California Gov. Jerry Brown signed historic legislation Thursday, establishing one of the most ambitious carbon reduction goals in the world. The bill, SB 32, has enormous implications for the state’s economy and for its efforts to combat climate change. It requires that California reduce its carbon pollution to at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.


“This is big, and I hope it sends a message across the country,” Brown said at the bill-signing in Los Angeles, according to the Sacramento Bee. “The bills today, they really are far reaching, and they keep California on the move to clean up the environment, to encourage vast innovation and to make sure we have the environmental resilience that the Californians really want and expect.” (Brown also signed into law AB 197, a measure that creates additional legislative oversight of the California Air Resources Board, the regulatory agency that had led the efforts to cut emissions.)


California has already made progress in cutting its carbon dioxide emissions, following a landmark 2006 law that called for the state to reduce carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. A report from the California Environmental Protection Agency last June showed that the state was on track to meet those goals, and California has one of the lowest carbon dioxide emission rates per capita. SB 32 would require California to reduce its emissions levels even more drastically. It also ensures that the state’s climate change efforts will continue for at least another 10 years.


Opponents of the legislation argued that making such significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions would hurt the economy. But supporters counter that that hasn’t been the case: California’s GDP has continued to grow while emissions have decreased, according to a fact sheet published by a group headed by Senate Democrats. California also didn’t lose manufacturing jobs, as opponents predicted it would, and continued to add jobs, according to the same group.GDP increased as carbon dioxide emissions decreased.


The bill’s goals will not be easy to accomplish, especially since it doesn’t specify what will happen to California’s cap-and-trade program, which sets a price and a limit on carbon emissions. The policy has been billed as a low-cost, revenue-generating way of cutting carbon pollution but has struggled in recent years. Without an effective cap-and-trade system, the state would have to find another way to meet its targets. The challenge facing California is a daunting one; here’s one possible scenario, as laid out by Vox:


We’re talking about a world where California gets more than 50 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2030 (up from 25 percent today), where zero-emissions vehicles are 25 percent of the fleet by 2035 (up from about 1 percent today), where high-speed rail is displacing car travel, where biofuels have replaced a significant chunk of diesel in heavy-duty trucks, where pastures are getting converted to forests, where electricity replaces natural gas in heating, and on and on.


Possible? Sure. Easy? Hardly. The level of effort is just orders of magnitude different from anything California has done so far.


Nevada County Climate Action Now