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Stephen Gottlieb: To Heal The Climate

I was delighted that President-elect Biden named John Kerry as special envoy to deal with the climate. Our earth and climate have been taking many hits. Unless we heal the damage and deal with global warming, things will get much worse fast. But talking about the threat of climate change paralyzes some people who make it harder to get anything done. So I’d like to focus on the positive.

None of us can single-handedly shut down the masses of carbon heating our globe, igniting the worst fires, floods and droughts in memory. No soldier in a war thinks everything depends on them alone. But they understand everybody has to do their part. We too can be soldiers fighting to preserve a livable environment by being part of the solution.

In the early 70s, I had clients in the St. Louis environmental movement – the Coalition for the Environment, and Black Survival. For both groups, I got to know the environmentalists there.

Barry Commoner, one of the first prophets and scientists of the environmental movement, taught at Washington University in St. Louis. I didn’t know him well, but I knew many who worked with him. We won some, we lost some, but it felt good that we were trying to be part of the solution. My wife and I celebrated the very first Earth Day in Forest Park in St. Louis. We’ve had friends who did amazing work both there and here in Albany.

The climate needs us to be foot soldiers. There’ve been plenty of leaders ?  Al Gore founder of the Climate Reality Project, Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, the Union of Concerned Scientists founded by the M.I.T faculty, the Natural Resources Defense Council and many others – but leaders need soldiers, people determined to work and vote for defenders of the climate. The earth needs each of us to be part of the solution, part of the greatest climate generation. We can support the Biden Administration’s efforts to improve the climate while creating climate-friendly projects to boost the economy and create jobs around the country.

Each step ripples outward. Our purchases build markets for climate friendly products. An engineer friend showed me that windows oriented due south automatically take full advantage of winter sun so we need less heat, and keep the summer sun out, so we need less air conditioning. He calls that “passive solar”. We installed solar panels, but could have switched to “green roofs,” covered with vegetation, or light-colored roofs and driveways that reflect the sun back. It’s possible to change the market by our decisions so that builders keep the environment in mind.

Cars are increasingly available that emit little or no carbon. None of us can buy enough cars to change the environment but collectively we can change the market so that car builders build for an environmentally-friendly market and the market for oil and gas shrink.

We can take the environment into account deciding to live near work, schools and shops. Most important, politically, we can let our representatives know we want a carbon tax that automatically steers everyone in the right directions.

None of us can change the environment alone, but we can all be part of the solution – at home, in the store, the dealership and the voting booth.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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