Yes, there is a climate emergency! (and here’s what you can do)

by Rebecca Franke

Often slipping by with too little notice, communities throughout the world are declaring climate emergencies. They recognize that waiting for national governments to take the lead isn’t sufficient. And coasting along with “someday, not now” nonchalance no longer cuts it. We’ve reached the point where “climate change” is not an accurate description of our situation and only obscures the fact that all life on this planet is already on the receiving end today of a destabilized climate.

Thankfully, we still have time to mobilize and accelerate local and regional support for comprehensive, immediate, and sustained action to help limit the worst impacts of a global temperature increase of 1.5°C (2.7°F). We know that even our current global temperatures are causing disruptions that are far worse than predicted just a few years ago.  That knowledge is what’s driving cities nationwide – and beyond – to declare climate emergencies; cities from Oakland to Austin, Hayward to Hoboken, Los Angeles to New York, and more.

While declaring a climate emergency is an extraordinary step, perhaps even more challenging is turning such declarations into action. But here’s the good news: There’s growing awareness from youth to adults that we have to do something AND there are great examples of what has been done already; no need necessarily to start from scratch. Here’s what you can do:

  • Share your sense of urgency with others, especially your elected officials. Instead of accepting the notion that it will take decades to make a significant impact on reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs), urge city officials to look at how to mobilize departments, staff, resources, programs, regulatory legislation, incentives, and constituent/community participation to implement solutions beginning right now…this year!
  • Ask elected officials to immediately review climate action plans, zeroing in on high impact actions. Buildings and transportation are the top producers of GHGs, offering the highest payback for investment in mitigation.
  • Look at the actions other cities are undertaking. Great ideas are sprouting everywhere. For instance, San Francisco’s Mayor Breed has proposed mandating that all large buildings switch to renewable energy by 2030. Berkeley has become the first city in the country to ban natural gas hookups to new buildings. And Copenhagen, Denmark is aiming to be the first major city to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions and carbon neutrality by 2025.
  • Work across political boundaries with your neighbors, other cities, and regional agencies to move more quickly to address the climate crisis. For example, bring local environmental groups together to organize a Climate Emergency Mobilization Summit. Advocate specific policies and aim to achieve explicit commitments from municipalities and regulatory bodies to transition as quickly as possible from fossil fuels.
  • Ask your City Council Member or elected representatives what they are doing to respond to our climate emergency. If your city has passed a declaration, now’s the time to get involved in its implementation. If your city hasn’t done so, then it’s time to meet with your council person to begin the process. Sierra Club California’s Energy and Climate Committee has put together a one-stop source of information on the Club’s California website. Here you can find additional background on the climate emergency, sample resolutions, and a downloadable spreadsheet full of best practices for reducing GHGs.  Which ones could you take to your city government?
  • Don’t ignore the power of youth. Their anguish over the earth they will inherit is moving many youths to become active on climate change and other environmental issues. Work to ensure that their schools are preparing them for the hard decisions they will have to make as adults. Climate change isn’t just a topic for a science class. It’s by definition sociopolitical, only fully understood through the perspective of a range of subjects, including economics and civics. And, according to a recent study, educated youth can cause a shift in their parents’ concern about climate change.
  • Do these things! The single most important thing you can do is to share on social media. Social media speeds communications. The more of us that get the message and begin repeating it, the greater will be the impact:
    • Share this blog post on  Facebook,Twitter and Instagram. Then ensure that fellow Club members and supporters see it by linking to it from your Chapter or Group website.
    • Join our Grassroots Climate Emergency Mobilization Team. Help communities across the country take meaningful steps to reduce greenhouse gases and keep fossil fuels in the ground!


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