Great piece by Ross Clark published in the Sentinel 8/9/20
Trying to retain last fall’s national focus on addressing climate change has been a challenge. As is with life, other pressing issues step forward and demand attention. Last fall CNN hosted a “Climate Crisis Town Hall” where Democratic candidates were asked about their plans to address climate change. Several candidates presented strong ideas that were on scale with the climate crisis before us and the debate elevated the importance of this topic as part of the 2020 presidential race.
Nine months later and Democrats have a presumptive presidential candidate, America faces a social awakening that needs attention and action, there is a global pandemic effecting everyday life and the health of millions, and the economy is far from where it was in September 2019. For those of us that work to keep climate change a central concern of our leaders, these other crises seem to be a distraction. So how do we maintain last falls climate momentum while allowing other important issues to take center stage.
In 2008, I was hired to the City of Santa Cruz Climate Action Program to draft a plan to help the city reduce carbon emissions 30% by 2020 (now!).
Soon thereafter, the economy failed and city leaders focused on other challenges. Because the climate program existed and we were given access to staff from all departments, we were able to draft, and begin to implement a reduction plan that included strategies and programs integrated among all city departments.
So how do we engage with the Biden campaign to ensure that national climate actions are not left till later but are a central focus of the candidate and his presidency? One easy solution is to “encourage” the democratic nominee to commit to establish a White House Climate Change Cabinet position. According to the Cabinet webpage, the “Cabinet’s role is to advise the president on any subject he may require.” Establishing a Climate Change Cabinet-rank position will empower that person to develop the necessary climate change policy and programs while allowing the president to focus on other pressing issues. Having access to Cabinet members representing all of government can (as is true in Santa Cruz) lead to the creation of multi-departmental programs that reduce carbon emissions, boost the economy, create jobs, protect lives and address social inequality.
For instance: A Climate Change Cabinet position could work with the Department of Transportation to increase electric vehicle charging infrastructure and lead the transition of the nation’s freight industry to electric trucks. A Climate Change Cabinet member could work with the Department of Agriculture to construct renewable wind generation infrastructure throughout the nation’s farms and dairies, work with Department of Education to expand climate change science in high schools and renewable energy design and engineering in universities (especially in coal country).
The Climate Change Cabinet member could work with Health and Human Services to build energy efficient, solar powered affordable housing (especially where air conditioning is required), with Department of Homeland Security on climate change hazard response in vulnerable coastal communities, with Department of Energy to upgrade our electric grid to include renewable storage, and with the Department of Commerce to upgrade our satellite network to keep track of global carbon emissions. The Climate Change Cabinet member could work with the Department of Defense to expand humanitarian relief programs for climate refugees that will pose national and global security risks in the future.
All of this and much more can be happening behind the scenes as our next president deals with the many other pressing issues that must be addressed but cannot take precedence. Don’t forget to vote.
Ross Clark is the director of the Central Coast Wetlands Group at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. He’s also a member of the county Commission on the Environment and the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Research Activity Panel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.