Connecticut can scale the wall of climate inaction

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The victory of Democrat Ned Lamont for governor and major gains by Democrats in both houses of the General Assembly set the table for progressive legislation when the new session begins in January. Paid family leave, a $15 an hour wage floor, and raising revenue through legalizing marijuana and levying tolls on trucks have been much mentioned, and all are laudable goals. And the flipping to blue of the U.S. House should allow at least for debate on issues like fair pay, immigration reform and others.

What’s been almost totally lacking is any talk of how to address the ticking time bomb we face that, if we don’t address it, will make other struggles for racial or gender justice or economic progress much harder. Recently a U.N. report by scores of climate scientists – members of the normally conservative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – told us we have just a dozen years to turn around the global slide to climate catastrophe.

And even on the rare occasions that candidates in this year’s election did highlight the issue, most media outlets ignored them so their positions didn’t stir up any kind of concern or commitment to action. For example, New York Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for a Green New Deal, but the media preferred to highlight her youth or her socialist bona fides instead.

East Haven climate advocate Rep. James Albis is loaded with environmental degrees and job titles, but even he, on his campaign website, referred to taking action to confront “changing weather patterns,” eschewing the apparently scary words “climate change” or even scarier “climate crisis.” But that’s what it is. As we all know, the weather changes constantly in this part of the country and such wording is not likely to raise any red flags. Changing weather is something even the majority of his constituents who voted for President Donald Trump can agree with.

The devastating impacts are all around us – tornadoes in Connecticut, unending wildfires in the West, increasing strength and destruction of hurricanes along the East coast, toxic algal blooms in Florida – so one wonders how the climate change deniers could continue blithely down their head-in-the-sand path, but continue they do.

What’s almost more infuriating is that so many folks who aren’t deniers are taking such a blasé stance toward doing anything to solve the problem. As the annual cost of hurricanes and wildfires just in the U.S. rises to the tens of billions of dollars, along with an escalation in the loss of life, the argument that we can’t – as a state or nation – afford to address climate change is non-sensical.

The tornadoes that touched down across the state last May caused $2 million in damages in Hamden alone, while destroying thousands of trees – and trees are one of the key bulwarks against climate change by absorbing the carbon dioxide that’s heating the planet.

With Trump in the White House and an even more extreme-right U.S. Senate on the horizon in January, there’s not much hope at the national level for significant progress on this issue. But there is in Connecticut, if our leaders will recognize the crisis and take action. What could that look like?

  • The declaration of a climate emergency to educate the public and political, business, non-profit, education and religious leaders
  • A 100 percent renewables target by 2045, following the lead of California, Hawaii and other states
  • No new fossil fuel projects permitted or built in the state
  • More – not less – funding for the Green Bank and for energy efficiency programs
  • A robust solar energy program, including a rapid phase-in of community solar projects for the 80 percent of residents who can’t install solar on their own homes/apartments/condos, and restoring fair compensation to residential owners through net metering
  • Support for construction of both on-shore and off-shore wind projects. (The CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs is pursuing a legislative mandate for 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030.)
  • Allow direct-to-consumer sales of electric vehicles, with rapid buildup of electric vehicle charging stations (35 percent of Connecticut’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, the largest contribution of any sector.)
  • A massive tree-planting program statewide to replace the tens of thousands that have been lost to storms and aggressive utility removal
  • Expansion of RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) beyond the electricity sector
  • Creation of jobs with good wages and benefits. Think about it: the idea that we have to choose between “jobs or the environment” has always been ludicrous on its face. Ask workers if they’d rather work in polluting, dangerous coal or fracked gas projects (think the Kleen Energy gas plant explosion in Middletown in 2010 that killed six workers) or clean energy projects that are good for them, their families, and the planet.
  • Your great idea here

The American economy was transformed during World War II to fight a powerful enemy — fascism. The foe we face now – runaway climate change – threatens our very existence. Let’s treat it with the respect and tenacity it deserves.

Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication says its studies show that many people want to discuss their concerns about climate change, but they think others don’t want to. It’s time for everyone – especially our elected and appointed leaders – to come out of the closet on this issue.

Melinda Tuhus  of Hamden is a member of the New Haven Climate Movement.

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