Climate knowledge implies following science. We need new local office holders who are informed and knowledgeable concerning climate change. Office holders who respect science also in economics, health care, and the other sciences. The world is complex, and we require citizens, particularly our civil actors and public officeholders, who are prepared and acknowledge this reality.
An example can be seen from reading the conclusions of the latest IPCC report that emphasizes longer-term and more radical adaption to our climate. If we use more electric and higher efficiency automobiles, one lowers pollution and carbon emissions for the present situation. This is the way we are going, but it may even contradict longer-term opportunities. We should ask ourselves: what kind of cities do we want? We begin to see that some of the more successful cities have chosen a multi-mode transport system. Cities like New York, Montreal, and Paris have well-run bus systems, subways, light rail, car networks with bridges and tunnels for taxis and private cars. There is space for pedestrians and bicyclists, often with increased green areas. Thus, electric vehicles will play an essential and specific role for most cities, but we are unlikely (hopefully) to pursue the automobile-centered urban development of the past.
Climate knowledge also implies that civic actors are fully aware of the new ideas and technologies concerning urban development and energy production & use. They must be knowledgeable of the different choices their community will face: in housing and cohousing, in urban transport, in energy savings, in new forms of energy organization (such as energy communities), in agriculture near the city, and in the circular economy (sharing, leasing, repairing, refurbishing, reusing and recycling). With the internet, learning among communities can be accelerated by such services as Smart Cities Dive, the National Civic League, Pew Research, the Metropolis and others.
By the way, it is not entirely accurate that there is always a political divide regarding climate change. The smart money and investors, belonging to both parties, are very aware that climate warming presents potential risks and opportunities that their companies and investments must confront. Most importantly, progress is being made on the disclosure of carbon emissions, climate risks, and opportunities for the companies traded on US stock markets. The SEC recently has proposed a climate risk disclosure for comments. Investors on both sides of the political aisle have the need and the right to know how companies are managing their climate risks. You can see the same in our urban transport systems that must be protected against future adverse weather events. Hurricane Sandy shut down lower Manhattan with stormwater spreading everywhere. Any city planner, Republican or Democratic, would take steps to increase the storm protection and resilience of endangered cities.
Of course, we differ in the urgency with which we approach climate mitigation and adaptation, but science continues to tell us to speed up, as exemplified by the latest IPPC report. Actual mitigation is too slow, with carbon emissions reaching a global record high in 2021, and adaptation is not keeping up. What is your personal carbon footprint, and what is one ton of emissions? A new report shows that the US economy could gain $3 trillion dollars if it rapidly decarbonizes over the next fifty years, adding nearly one million more jobs. It states:
insufficient action on climate change could cost the US economy $14.5 trillion dollars in the next 50 years. A loss of this scale is equivalent to nearly 4% of GDP or $1.5 trillion in 2070 alone.
By the way, Exxon’s own scientists confirmed the global warming consensus in 1982 with in-house climate models. However, starting in 1987, ExxonMobil’s management began to campaign to cast doubt on climate science, publicly deriding the work of its own scientists. ExxonMobil reportedly funded 39 organizations that misrepresented climate science by outright denial or by overstating the uncertainties.1 Their subsequent decades of campaigning to seed doubts, in addition to the Big Oils’ long-term support of national political campaigns through PACs and super PACs has contributed to the delay in taking climate warming seriously in the US.2
Now is the time to act. Local civic action is caring and doing something for your community. It may be a part-time action to plant more trees, it may involve participation in school programs, it may be to help to recycle in your neighborhood, it may include volunteer activities, or it may mean supporting a local candidate you trust. The first step is to concentrate on your area of interest, find out what is going on locally, and explore the possibilities.
In only 18 months since launching, the SunSmart program of the National Civic League celebrates a significant milestone: 100 communities throughout the United States have distinguished themselves as ‘open for solar business’ by meeting important process and performance criteria in eight categories. These include permitting, planning zoning & development, inspection, construction codes, solar rights, utility engagements, community engagement, and market development & financing. There are several winning communities in each category, and some are near you and may be contacted to learn from their experience.
America's democracy is above all local, we sometimes forget. Running for a local elected office is one of the highest forms of civic action. There are more than 500,000 elected officials in the US, 50 state elections, 3000 county races, and several hundred thousand local and town elections, such as the members of school boards, city councils, and district attorneys in some areas. Then there is the mosquito board, the water abatement board, the flood control district trustees, community college boards, state university regents, and various educational councils and boards, not to mention the city and town mayors. Amanda Litman advises us to run for local office and has started a movement of candidates for local offices. Her book and run for something site offer handy tactical and strategic advice about how to run for local office. It is worthwhile to read the profile of candidates. Since 2017 about 100,000 persons have indicated they want to run, and about ten percent got on the ballot! The profile of candidates is interesting because they represent people from ordinary walks of life but with a passion for local civic commitment. A less liberal and non-partisan site for encouraging local candidates is run for something civics, which also informs you which offices are available at your location.
An essential service for conservative candidates is the Leadership Institute, which is presently concentrated on school board elections. The organization provides training in campaigns, fundraising, grassroots organizing, youth politics, and communications. Since 1979, the Leadership Institute has trained more than 200,000 conservative activists, leaders, and students.
There is plenty of work here to elaborate a conservative approach to climate change. Smart Republicans are not deniers and historically have experience in emissions control. The cap-and-trade scheme of environmental management was championed by the George H.W. Bush administration during development of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 and ultimately became the centerpiece of the new very successful acid rain program in Title IV of the act. The question is whether the same scheme could be applied to carbon dioxide emissions, which the EU has successfully used. Other conservative organizations are advocating a carbon tax.
I believe that many would like to sense America, to feel American again, but we do not know how. We need to make our communities work. And some of us want to set aside our individualistic habits that block us. What could be better than local civic action? A cure for inaction and indifference. This is where we can meet and learn to get things done with less political divisiveness.
1 Banerjee, Neela; Cushman Jr., John H.; Hasemyer, David; Song, Lisa., (2016), Exxon: The Road Not Taken, InsideClimate News, Kindle Edition.
2 Mebane, W., (2021), Do super PACs threaten our democracy and climate?