Climate change activists tell San Rafael crowd momentum for change is building
Leaders in the fight against global warming told a crowded house at Dominican University this week that the tide of public opinion has turned and momentum for taking action is building.
More than 800 people filled Angelico Hall to near capacity for the “Time to Lead on Climate” forum. Sustainable San Rafael and Organizing For Action Marin sponsored the event to build support for action on climate change in the run up to the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, which begins at the end of the month. The meeting came on the heels of President Barack Obama’s long-awaited decision last week to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline application.
“Extreme weather events like the historic drought we’ve been experiencing in California are focusing public attention in a very real way on this issue,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. “The debate over global climate change is essentially over. People are convinced. We won.”
Newly elected Novato councilman Josh Fryday, who serves as chief operating officer at NextGen Climate Action in San Francisco, said, “These numbers will cheer you up in case you needed it. According to a recent New York Times/Stanford poll, 81 percent of all Americans believe that climate change is real and is caused by human activity. And two-thirds said they were more likely to vote for political candidates who campaigned on fighting climate change. There is no doubt we have momentum. ”
But Susan Stephenson, executive director of Interfaith Power & Light, an organization of religious groups seeking to respond to global warming, told the crowd that cold, hard facts may not be sufficient to generate the degree of change necessary.
“We know we already have a large majority of Americans who believe that climate change is a problem and have concerns about it; why hasn’t that translated into political change?” Stephenson asked. “Maybe what we’re lacking is moral passion.”
Stephenson suggested that Pope Francis could be a game changer in that vein — “our Martin Luther King Jr. for climate.”
When Francis addressed the United Nations General Assembly in September, he said that human beings are part of the environment and live in communion with it.
“Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity,” Francis said.
Ken Alex, a senior policy adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, said that California has convinced 53 subnational jurisdictions throughout the world — states, provinces and cities — to sign a pledge to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. He said the combined gross domestic product of these jurisdictions, $15 trillion, will be larger than that of any nation attending the Paris conference. California will send representatives to Paris even though it will not have a seat at the negotiating table.
The forum began with a video message from Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, which has battled climate change through grassroots organizing and mass public demonstrations.
McKibben said that Californians are already witnessing the effects of climate change from a “front-row seat” with the “ongoing drought and the fires that come with it and the sinking land in the Central Valley and the crazy rates of asthma especially in places like Fresno where the smoke from the wildfires is combining with the dust.”
McKibben said he doesn’t expect any agreement reached in Paris will adequately address global warming.
“Paris isn’t the game; Paris is the scoreboard,” McKibben said. “The scoreboard will show us still heading for a world three or four degrees warmer. We need to keep talking not about the road to Paris but the road through Paris. We need to stop fracking in California. We need to get more divestment.”
Huffman counterbalanced the good news on public opinion with some sobering news about politics in Congress.
“Some of you may have seen the recent Time magazine poll a couple of weeks ago that showed that the number of climate deniers in America is at an all-time low; so that’s the great news.” Huffman said. “The bad new is that all of the remaining climate deniers are in Congress.”
Huffman said he will be part of a delegation of Democratic congressional members attending the Paris climate conference, in part, to offset the efforts of Republicans, such as Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, who will be there to disrupt the meeting.
Huffman said that due to the Republican Party’s continued refusal to recognize the threat of global warming there is no possibility at the current time that the nation will adopt a cap-and-trade program like the one created in California under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Fryday — whose employer, NextGen Climate Action, backs candidates across the country who are interested in addressing climate change — said climate activists need to do three things to help change the political climate in Washington.
“First, ensure that climate change is part of the conversation and that candidates and politicians talk about real solutions,” Fryday said. “Second, aggressively frame the economic and health benefits of climate actions. And third, drastically broaden the coalition of those calling for a clean energy economy.”
Fryday said to be successful climate activists need to make climate a kitchen table issue in battleground states in the next presidential election. He said it is vital to explain that climate change is more than just an environmental issue.
“Tackling climate change is about creating good-paying jobs for working families,” Fryday said. “It’s about ensuring our kids can lead healthy lives, and it’s about creating a more just society where we all prosper and where we protect the most vulnerable among us.
“Yes, climate change is our greatest challenge,” Fryday said, “but it is also one of our greatest opportunities.”