The Climate Emergency Is Here

Photo courtesy of NASA

Orange skies. Hazardous air. Homes and livelihoods destroyed. Loved ones lost. The toll of this year’s dangerously unusual fire season — which is not even halfway over — is staggering.

California was meant to burn; fire is a natural part of our forests’ lifecycles. But climate change has made blazes across the West bigger, hotter, and much more damaging. With record heat and drought turning trees into tinder, our state has experienced six of the largest wildfires in modern history this year alone. Smoke from the wildfires in the West has made it as far as New York and Hawaii. Dozens of people have died or are still missing throughout the west.

We are far from the only part of the country living in the thick of climate chaos. Tropical Storm Beta has left portions of Houston underwater. Just last week, Hurricane Sally pummeled the Gulf Coast, which had barely begun the difficult process of recovering from Hurricane Laura. This summer, the Midwest faced hurricane-force winds that damaged homes and businesses, and flattened millions of acres of crops. Across the country, we see the same pattern: Low-income people and people of color are hurt first and worst by climate catastrophe, and struggle hardest to recover.

The climate emergency is here. It is threatening our homes, our families, our livelihoods, and everything we hold dear. And the storms, fires, floods, and droughts will only get more destructive. As we come together to support those hit the hardest by this year’s extreme weather, we need to act swiftly to move our communities beyond fossil fuels and toward the clean energy future we need.

As a country, we have no more time for half-measures. California, as one of the most progressive states in the country, has an opportunity to show the rest of the country what it means to tackle the climate crisis at the speed and scope that science and justice demand.

Last week, our state was on fire in 900 places. We need more than good speeches and passionate soundbites from our governor. Maybe it’s time we stopped digging more fuel out of the ground. Governor Newsom must stop approving permits for new oil and gas drilling and pipelines, and work toward a managed phaseout of oil production and refining in our state. Of course, that phaseout must be accompanied by wage support, retraining, and other resources for fossil fuel workers, who have powered our economy for so long. Especially during a devastating recession, we can’t afford to have the price of climate progress be economic distress.

Newsom needs to make sure our state replaces energy from fossil fuels with 100 percent clean energy by 2030, starting by making direct investments in the communities of color and low-income communities that have borne the brunt of fossil-fuel pollution. That clean energy can, and must, power our cars, buses, and trains, and our homes, businesses, and other buildings. It’s time we treat climate change like the emergency it is.

Transportation is California’s largest source of climate pollution, accounting for 40 percent of our emissions. We won’t be able to address our contribution to the climate crisis without changing how we power our vehicles and how we get around. By 2030, all of the cars sold in the state should be zero-emission. Our public buses and trains must also run on clean energy, and serve many more Californians than they do now.

Homes, businesses, and other buildings are also one of California’s top sources of climate pollution. Governor Newsom can make sure the Energy Commission requires that all new buildings run on clean electricity by 2022, and then accelerate the pace at which we’re phasing fossil fuels out of our existing buildings. This would help put an end to the seriously unsafe practice of piping fracked gas into our homes to fuel appliances. It’s critical that we work together to make clean appliances affordable and accessible for all, and ensure all appliances sold in California are electric starting in 2025.

California needs Governor Newsom to step up and be a true climate leader — and appoint climate leaders at every level of government to help our beloved state chart a course toward a future with fewer fires and droughts. Anything less is climate denial, or, rather, a denial of reality. We are in a climate emergency, one that is slated to get worse fast. Call Governor Newsom at 415–236–3166 and let him know: He needs to act, quickly and strongly.

Dad, husband, executive director of the @sierraclub, writer, Jersey Shore native, Little League coach, #Yankees fan, climate hawk. Optimist. Love the Bay Area.