Climate: code red

It’s too late to fix an unraveling climate and its rising heat, which is already inflicting loss of property and life. It’s time for municipalities like Brattleboro to set an example by treating the climate emergency as a climate emergency.

ATHENS — The current state of the climate is in a "code red for humanity."

So stated the August 2021 report of the United Nation's authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As the U.N.'s secretary-general, António Guterres, noted, "The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable."

The only way we can avoid going beyond the internationally agreed threshold of 1.5 degrees C of global heating - which we are "perilously close" to exceeding - is by "stepping up our efforts, and pursuing the most ambitious path."

We are failing to engage in such a regimen.

Our president still refuses to declare a climate emergency - this, despite the worldwide killer heat waves, destructive flooding, tenacious fires, devastating droughts, and resulting food insecurity, thousands of climate refugees fleeing their homelands, not to mention his own admission as he left for Florida to inspect the destruction from Hurricane Idalia: "I don't think anybody can deny the impact of the climate crisis anymore, [which] has caused significant damage like we've never seen before."

A climate emergency declaration would allow the president to employ "the tools to lead a tectonic shift," according to Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity Energy Justice Program. As outlined by Common Dreams, the Center's report this past February detailed how Biden has the authority under the Defense Production Act, National Emergencies Act, and Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to:

• Halt crude oil exports.

• Stop oil and gas drilling in the outer continental shelf.

• Restrict international trade and private investment in fossil fuels.

• Grow domestic manufacturing for clean energy and transportation to speed the nationwide transition off fossil fuels.

• Build resilient and distributed renewable energy systems in climate-vulnerable communities.

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But Biden is not alone in needing to adjust to the present reality.

Climate activists, for example, need to turn the page from yesterday's worthy-but-limited practice of protest and demands on a petroleum industry and its political lackeys to seriously work toward a fossil-free society (something neither seems inclined to do), to also addressing the reality about which environmentalist and scholar Bill McKibben succinctly articulated.

"It's too late to stop global warming, that's no longer on the menu [and] even if we do everything right at this point, the temperature will go up," he said in a 2018 interview.

"The main question is whether we'll be able to hold the rise in temperature to a point where we can, at great expense and suffering, deal with those crises coherently, or whether they will overwhelm the coping abilities of our civilization," McKibben continued. "The latter is a distinct possibility."

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We cannot mitigate an unraveling climate and its principal agent - rising heat - that is already inflicting on our society enormous property damage and loss of life, human and non-human alike.

We need, instead, to be organizing people in their neighborhoods, communities, and towns to help them be citizens who are better prepared and more self-sufficient, resilient, and adaptive so they can take care of themselves and one another - to "deal with those crises coherently" - in the face of that which cannot be avoided because "even if we do everything right at this point, the temperature will go up."

Municipalities - especially sizable ones like Brattleboro which exercise an influence beyond their borders - need to step up to the plate, not only in the interests of their own citizens, but also for the example they can set for other towns.

Separate efforts in 2019 to convince the Selectboard to declare a climate emergency - through a youth-initiated effort by the activist group Brattleboro Common Sense, as well as in meetings by yours truly with the former town manager and the energy coordinator - were summarily dismissed.

In the language of the Common Sense youth, it's time for "today's town leaders to formally acknowledge the truth of the emergency," and by so doing, as then-presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders declared, encouraging people to look at the climate crisis as if it were "a devastating military attack against the United States and the entire planet."

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In addition to putting the town departments on a "war footing," so to speak, the Selectboard could also give their blessings to their fine climate coordinator to organize community conversations and forums, media education, and neighborhood mutual aid groups that engage town residents around becoming prepared for emergency.

Doing so would help empower a citizenry, many of whom currently feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the unprecedented crisis, by involving them in discussions and actions that would address their need to be more resilient, adaptive, and better prepared before the next disastrous event occurs - not simply reactive to it afterward.

Officially declaring our climate emergency to be a climate emergency is essential to becoming climate-relevant people, creatively and presciently acting on our lives rather than allowing them to be simply acted upon.

While not easy, accepting the truth of our situation liberates us from the incapacitating denial many of us find ourselves stuck in today, allowing the best of us to emerge to deal with what we already know in our hearts to be true - declaration or not.

Tim Stevenson, a community organizer with Post Oil Solutions, is author of Resilience and Resistance: Building Sustainable Communities for a Post Oil Age (Green Writers Press) and the recently published Transformative Activism: A Values Revolution in Everyday Life in a Time of Societal Collapse (Apocryphile Press). Contact him at [email protected].

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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