Working towards peace and sustainability

Climate Emergency—For Real!


As we write this, new records are being set daily. Sci­entists tell us the Earth is hotter now than any time in the last 125,000 years; this according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For the whole planet, July was the hottest month observed since we be­gan keeping records.

Intense heat is no fun, in fact it can be deadly. It’s not just hot, however. We’re living through extreme flooding, unprecedented wildfires, severe droughts, crop failures and famine, melting ice, rising seas, skyrocketing rates of extinction, and forecasts as mind boggling as the poten­tial shutdown of the Gulf Stream current in the Atlan­tic. The impacts are global, but sadly, many fiddle, while the planet burns.

What’s needed, of course, is the peaceful, planet-saving equivalent of what our nation did after Pearl Harbor. In a matter of months, factories that had been producing cars and washing machines were making tanks and artillery; not to mention the Manhattan Project which, in just three years, invented and produced the first atom bombs. Declaring a climate emergency would enable a response commensu­rate with the challenge we are facing.

Understanding the Challenge

After decades of denial and delay, it’s no surprise that many in decision-making positions, including both Rs and Ds here in the U.S., are failing miserably when it comes to providing climate leadership.

Many are still in denial, while others acknowledge the problem, but are slow-walking the sort of action required to address this urgent, existential threat. And some have embraced a new favorite of the fossil fuel industry. They posit we can solve climate change via a technological solution—most likely carbon capture and storage (CCS)—despite its energy intensivity, prohibitive cost, questionable effectiveness and safety risks.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading scientific organization address­ing climate concerns, has warned us over and over again about the urgency in taking action now. Their cries for action include imploring us to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emission in half this decade. Many think this would be too little, too late.

That said, Columbia is a progressive city, and we have a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), so we’re doing OK, right? No, in fact not even close. Our CAAP was not ambitious enough to begin with. It calls for a 35 percent reduction by 2035. And, how are we doing toward meeting this goal? The City’s inventory of GHG emissions shows that we’ve managed to reduce emissions by 3.1 per­cent over the past seven years. At that rate … Yeah, you get the picture.

And the state of Missouri is politically in the hands of deniers. Our Governor, Mike Parson, seems to think if we ignore it, it will go away. Try Googling his name and cli­mate. You’ll find virtually nothing. Try searching his State of the State speech text. Again, nada.

On the Federal level, things are only a little better. While President Joe Biden talks the talk on climate, calling it an existential threat, his actions belie his words. His energy policy seems to be an updated ver­sion of Barack Obama’s “All of the Above” non-strategy.

Biden, who had promised not to, has been opening federal lands to drilling for fossil fuels. He’s green-lighted new pipelines and has been championing the use of meth­ane, referred to generally as natural gas. He has embraced the export of compressed natural gas (CNG) and support­ed building new gas export terminals.

While methane produces more energy per unit of fuel burned than coal, and contains less of what dirties our air, it tends to leak and it is a very potent GHG. So, we really can’t afford to ramp up natural gas usage.

But the myth of clean gas lingers, and this allows the fossil fuel industry to push for permits to build new pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure, knowing full well that they will only make the investments of billions of dollars if they will use it for multiple decades, which is much later than the scientists tell us fossil fuels must be fully phased out.

Climate Emergency 101

The Center for Biological Diversity has taken the lead in advocating for a national climate emergency. They point out that, under several statutes, President Biden has the ability to take actions that would really move the needle on climate; and they can do this without any input from Congress. Their website provides in-depth information on this subject at: https://tinyurl.com/ClimatePrez. Here’s an outline laying out these powers:
Presidential Powers Under the Na­tional Emergencies Act, the Defense Production Act and the Stafford Act:

1. Ban Crude Oil Exports

2. Stop Oil and Gas Drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf

3. Curtail International Trade and Investment in Fossil Fuels

4. Grow Domestic Green Manufac­turing to Speed the Nationwide Trans­formation to Clean Energy and Transpor­tation

5. Direct FEMA to Construct Climate-Re­silient Energy Systems in Frontline Communities

While these are all important powers that we would love to see Pres­ident Biden invoke to reduce emis­sions, an equally critical action that Biden could take, if he’d really like to be a Climate President would be to use the bully pulpit to build a broad social consensus that it is urgent for all of us to take the climate crisis seriously.

We would encourage him to take the appeal for personal action to re­duce carbon footprints to the Ameri­can people, as well as to build popular support for challenging the corporate polluters, insisting that they stop their incessant attack on the climate, and partake, instead, in a collaborative effort to create a much greener, cli­mate-friendly future.

Localize It

While Biden can declare an emer­gency for the entire country, our city councils can take action on the local level. Here in CoMo, there are nu­merous issues that seem to be getting a business as usual response, when we really should be breaking the glass and putting that fire extinguisher to good use.

While we don’t have space here for a comprehensive list, a few items that could be on our agenda include: 100 percent renewable electricity from Columbia W&L by 2030 at the latest; rate structures for electricity, water and trash that strongly incentivize efficiency and conservation; building codes that require efficiency retro­fits for owner-occupied and rental housing; expanding loan and rebate programs for residential efficien­cy; requiring, wherever feasible, for new housing to include solar electric systems; restoring, ASAP, curbside recycling; making recycling man­datory, at least for aluminum; limit vehicular idling to 30 seconds; create incentives for infill development and disincentives for sprawl; invest in the creation of Class 1 bikeways parallel to routes that currently have too much traffic for safe cycling; updating the CAAP to reflect the current scientific consensus that emissions must be cut in half this decade and zeroed out by 2050; and divest any city funds, including pension plans, that are cur­rently invested in fossil fuels.

We need community leaders, including elected officials, academics, clergy, sustainable business leaders, activists of many stripes, and others to promote a powerful community response to the climate emergency. And, we need you, dear reader, to press forward to get Columbia, as well as other cities and towns in the area to recognize the emergency we’re facing and act to address it.