By Caroline Peters
At the beginning of 2020, no one could have envisioned how these past seven months would have unfolded: a pandemic that abruptly took away any sense of normalcy from our lives and has snowballed into an economic recession. In March, as people transitioned to working at home and attending virtual conferences, carbon emissions dropped, wildlife reclaimed natural habitats, and mainstream environmentalists applauded. Though these changes were a stark reminder of what humans have done to the environment, those images are only a false hope of environmental progress. Real progress begins with people in positions of political and socioeconomic power taking initiative by creating changes within their companies and governments.
At the end of June we saw House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) propose “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America.” The plan from the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is a first step towards a concrete commitment for climate action and justice. The committee listened and learned from community leaders, climate justice advocates, and policy experts, as well as public input to inform their 547-page report.
The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (on which 2020 Humanist of the Year Jared Huffman (D-CA) sits) has created twenty-three one-page summaries, from which I parsed out a few major themes: innovating and investing in clean energy, infrastructure, and technology that stimulates the economy; protecting the health of ecosystems and mitigating land use; and centralizing frontline communities in actions moving forward. These themes have one common goal: achieving a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2050—a goal deemed necessary by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change if we are to limit the average global rise in temperature to 1.5° C (2.7° F).
Events associated with climate change have already cost the United States and other countries billions. The proposed plan looks to invest now in clean energy, strong infrastructure, and innovative technology in order to cut future costs. We are currently experiencing residual effects of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere years ago. The action plan states there will be investments in science and cutting-edge carbon removal technology that could start to remedy past damage. A method in the plan to confront future emissions is to construct and upgrade buildings and transportation systems to improve efficiency. In order to reach the committee’s goal of a 100 percent clean-energy economy by 2050, the proposals would redirect energy grids away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy.
With a changing climate, biodiversity and natural ecosystems face heightened risks. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis advocates for public input on the best ways to effectively approach and find solutions to the plights of natural ecosystems. Another major crisis that we often hear about is food production and agriculture. The agriculture industry is a major contributor to climate change, but it also suffers from increasing global temperatures, weather patterns, and extreme climate events. Our food security and ecosystem health depend on investments into solutions that will propel innovation in the agriculture industry—solutions that the House Committee wants the government to finance.
Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by climate change. While wealthier communities emit the most greenhouse gases, disadvantaged communities feel a higher proportion of the consequences. They are more likely to be exposed, are more susceptible, and have fewer ways to cope and recover from adverse climate effects. The House Committee recognizes the challenges marginalized communities face because of the actions of the privileged, and the plan centers their voices in the conversations and innovations moving forward. Additionally, the committee pledges to listen to and learn from Indigenous communities for solutions and invest in disproportionately exposed communities in order to cut pollution, improve public health, and manage climate risks.
Many environmental organizations and advocacy groups are coming out in support of this plan. Abigail Dillen, the president of Earthjustice, states:
This report centers environmental justice for communities of color and low-income communities on the frontlines of pollution and climate impacts, and priorities people’s health over polluter profits.
Ken Kimmell, president of The Union of Concerned Scientists, praised the action plan in stating that it “offers a strong foundation for climate action.”
While many claim their support, others demonstrate their unease with the logistics and implementation. The progressive plan is not likely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House, and the president has publicly denied climate change. However, the plan’s authors are still hopeful they’ll gain support.
The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis formed two years ago, and the introduction of their plan during the current public health crisis has raised eyebrows. Some claim that the decision to release the detailed plan now was poor judgement at an inopportune moment because of the centered attention on the global pandemic, economic recession, and racial justice movement. However, public health, economic equality, and environmental justice are all inherently linked, and the conversation on climate action does not halt with the rise of other movements. The action plan doesn’t just look to change our current systems, it looks to overhaul them.
One of the Ten Commitments for living out humanist values is environmentalism, but climate action and its relation to the Ten Commitments doesn’t stop there. Every decision we make, whether it is biking to work, charging electronics, or buying from a major corporation, influences the climate. Therefore, it makes sense that the Ten Commitments are intertwined into all aspects of environmental responsibility. Humanists have a commitment to ethical development of clean energy and infrastructure to promote social and economic justice. As we move forward in conversations and policies regarding climate, we must continue to center our commitments on global awareness, empathy, and our responsibility to protect the environment for populations disproportionately affected. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis action plan establishes a foundation and direction for the future in which humanist values radiate.