Voters can elect to protect the climate

By Pat Sanchez

As Americans were watching Obama’s legacy of environmental protection laws being dismantled, not just one by one, but in broad swathes. Sweden took one giant leap forward earlier this year. Sweden’s Climate Minister (there is actually a position with this responsibility in that country) signed into law a climate referral. In essence, this law establishes a mandate guaranteeing 100 percent emission-free status in that country by 2045. Swedish Environment Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin, together with all but the far right members of the Democratic party of Sweden, passed the law, which further ties up any loose ends by locking in any future Swedish governments to their emission goal as well!

This elegantly achieved accomplishment takes my breath away. But it also gets under my skin, because it is disturbing to me that another country, another farsighted government, is carrying on with the work once championed by U.S. leadership. The current U.S. administration, even as it tap dances through scandal after scandal, has instead opted to sweep away hard-fought-for climate protection laws that limit business growth in any way, no matter how much that decision damages the air we breathe and our health in general.

Here is how they are doing it: For one thing, the U.S. administration is suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to eliminate what they consider to be onerous levels of compliance. Recently, as gas production in the U.S. increased, gas became cheaper, and car buyers began opting for less efficient, big vehicles with poorer EPA ratings. So now the federal admins want to lower national standards, making these pitiful ratings “acceptable.” The U.S. administration is pursuing relaxation, even elimination, of standards and laws meant to achieve the clean air goals reflected in the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement was created by 195 countries, including some of the worst polluters in the world. These countries agreed to limit their carbon emissions enough to prevent Earth’s surface temperature from increasing 1.5 degrees Celsius above where it was before the Industrial Revolution — scientists fear that any higher rise in surface heat would cause irreparable damage to climate, and would involve unpredictable, crippling weather. The deal was signed and sealed over a global handshake.

As part of that commitment, the U.S. has in good faith put policy in practice to achieve meaningful progress in safeguarding our atmosphere and our climate. Obama’s administration cut emissions by 28 percent. California put tough laws in place to reduce emissions and has said it may ignore laxer national standards, a clear sign that some people in power are willing to maintain sane, sensible progress in the face of good ol’ boy temptations. Plus, California has stepped forward with its own lawsuit against the federal government, in a counter move to keep the current standards in place. Even China is locking in place new pro-climate policy.

Unfortunately, appointees by the current U.S. administration are being selected from a pool of people with elevated animosity toward the very agencies to which they are being assigned — agencies responsible for protecting the environment. These appointees are being instated for the sole purpose of destroying those agencies from within. Putting Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA is much like putting the fox in charge of the thermostat — he is disassembling the EPA as quickly as he can.

Amid all this drama, the climate is getting warmer, and the water is getting hotter at an alarmingly steady pace. That’s not a frog in the cook pot. It’s US.

U.S. leadership does not seem to think it is possible to have good business growth and a stable climate. But in fact, American history is packed with passionate, innovative people who made the impossible real. After years of testing and development using scientific method rather than the handy hit-or-miss method, the Wright brothers figured out how people could fly. Our scientists conquered polio and enabled us to put the first man on the moon. We did not achieve these wonders by accepting illogical reasons for doing nothing at all, or worse, by doing something destructive that enabled powerful business interests to enhance their money streams.

In spite of the twisted nature of recent political events, I’m convinced that, at heart, most Americans are dreamers. Lucky for the dreamers, there will be a sizable slate of candidates who are new to politics on the ballot this year, and are eager to make a difference. A record number of those candidates are women.

This could signal a wave of innovative political change. To participate, even to make sure progress really does happen, every single eligible voter should register to vote, question their respective legislators as well as any new promising candidates for office, and insist on productive, fact-based reasons for candidate goals and actions. Demanding accountability and investigating the voting record of anyone running for office enables citizens to cast ballots intelligently on behalf of their personal decision to protect the climate and secure it for generations to come.

Everyone I speak to, I urge to vote their conscience in both the primary runoffs on May 22, and the November elections — and I encourage each of them to bring a friend to do the same.

Illustration by Pat Sanchez

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