Three months ago, I walked through the streets of New York City with the People’s Climate March. I will never forget the moment I rounded Columbus Circle and saw a sea of people stretching for miles in each direction. More than 400,000 of us had joined together to demand world leaders take action on climate change. What struck me was the mood in the crowd. Folks were warm and welcoming, but above all else, they had resolve. They were determined to turn the tide on climate change.
These marchers are not alone. The most hopeful sign I see in the world is that people from all walks of life are demanding action on climate change. I have been an environmental advocate for more than four decades, and I have learned that our biggest breakthroughs come when we have the broadest public support.
Right now farmers, college students, union members, environmental justice groups, business executives and countless others are pushing for climate solutions. Many are inspired to act by visionary women leaders, including May Boeve, Peggy Shepherd, Elizabeth Yeampierre, Margie Alt, Ricky Perera, and so many others. They are “unbowed,” as Wangari Maathai would say, and they are calling for a more sustainable future. I am optimistic we will create that future in my lifetime.
For most of my career, our country had a small group of people focused on energy issues, while everyone else filled up our gas tanks and turned on our lights. That has changed dramatically in the past five years. Fossil fuel development has reached into backyards, schools, and communities. The Wall Street Journal reports that 1 in 20 Americans lives within a mile of an oil or gas well drilled since the fracking boom began in 2000. People have grown deeply concerned about what fossil fuel pollution means for our health and families.
And what it means for our climate. We need only look out the window to see the hallmarks of climate change. From dangerous flooding in Michigan and Minnesota to costly drought in the West to the hottest summer on record globally, the climate crisis is already hitting home.
It will grow more intense until we confront the problem at its source: fossil fuel pollution. The Obama Administration is making progress; it has established fuel economy standards that will cut carbon pollution from new cars in half by 2025 and it has proposed the first ever limits on carbon emissions from power plants—the largest source of this dangerous pollution in the country. It has also spurred enormous growth in wind and solar power and energy efficiency. This is a good start, but much more needs to be done.
It will take a prolonged commitment, and yet one of the greatest obstacles we face is that our political and economic systems focus on the short-term. Most lawmakers struggle to see past the next election, and executives have their eye on the next quarter. The fight against climate change will require a sustained effort to promote renewable power, fuel efficiency, pollution control, and other solutions not just this year but for many years to come.
The only way to reconcile this tension is to have a loud and concerted chorus of voices demanding change. And here is the good news: those voices are emerging across the nation. I hear it in the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline for tar sands oil, the call for climate justice in low income communities, and the report that more than 3.4 million Americans have jobs in the clean economy.
This is our moment. This is the time for us as a nation to commitment to stamping out our carbon footprint—to become carbon neutral—in our lifetime. The technologies and policies exist to achieve this goal. We just have to raise our voices and demand bold action now. I am confident we will be heard, and we will create a better future for our children and ourselves.
Rachel’s Network Environmental Leadership Liaison Frances Beinecke is former president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and author of the new book, The World We Create: A Message of Hope for a Planet in Peril