Climate change is a stress-multiplier. For example, though drought is common in our region, climate change has made the current drought the longest and deepest in at least 1,200 years.
Climate change especially aggravates social stresses. Disadvantaged people and countries suffer more because of structural inequalities, such as the health care disparities revealed by COVID-19. Likewise, poor countries indebted under the legacy of political and economic colonialism need funding for climate adaptation, but rich countries, including the U.S., have not yet met existing adaptation finance pledges.
The inequities go deeper. The wealth of Westernized countries mostly came from an economic bonanza delivered by fossil fuels, with climate change as collateral damage. Although China emits more annually today, the U.S. and other developed countries still dominate the cumulative emissions that drive global warming. Unsurprisingly, poorer nations now agitate to receive compensation for their disproportionate losses and damages, but initial discussions in May ended in stalemate.
Although past emissions ensure worsening impacts, action now can still enable the world to avoid the worst climate consequences. We must rapidly reduce emissions, even as we reinforce infrastructure and adapt to our evolving new normal. Accumulating damages in the U.S. alone have exceeded $2 trillion, with projections of ever-growing losses.
Climate action will more than pay for itself, but inequality weighs against action. The rich obstruct political initiatives; the poor fret about upfront costs. Finally, deep inequality erodes democracy, increasing the appeal of autocrats, who are likely more concerned with power than climate change.
The trillions of dollars needed for climate mitigation, adaptation and rebuilding present an unprecedented opportunity for a “just transition” that addresses both inequality and climate. To address climate alone will only deepen inequality. We can do both. As economist John Maynard Keynes said during World War II, “If we can do it, we can afford it.”
The climate emergency is a moral crisis as well as a physical one. Justice in today’s world and between our world and that of our descendants imposes the imperative to act.
Responding to that imperative involves four components.
The first response to climate change is to live mindfully, aware of our consumption, acting to reduce our carbon footprint, and offsetting emissions we cannot reduce. The Four Corners Carbon Offset Fund (https://4cornersoffset.org/) provides an avenue for doing this.
The second response is to engage in political and social action. Beyond individual actions, the magnitude of the transition requires change on the scale of wartime mobilization. Collectively, we must seek to elect leaders who understand the imperative for a just transition, but who also will do so without jeopardizing needed action by demonizing those who disagree politically. Locally, we can work within our own networks and organizations to build a more equitable and harmonious community with a smaller carbon footprint.
The third response is simply to sustain ourselves. One approach is to regularly get outdoors to appreciate our beautiful but threatened planet.
The fourth response is to seek the collective energy of supportive groups. We need fellowship to energize this critical work in the community and the world. Locally, the Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado (sustainableSWcolorado.com) serves as a sustainability hub. It hosts Green Drinks at 11th Street Station at 5 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except a week earlier in November and not at all in December). That regular event provides a great opportunity to connect with like-minded people.
Climate change and the just transition are not spectator sports. Come join the effort.
Dick White is a former two-term City Council member and served as mayor of Durango.