Tim Guinee: The House Is On Fire

Apr 9, 2019

New York state has failed us. By refusing to confront the climate crisis in a sweeping, fundamental way in the state budget, our public servants have abandoned us. They may trumpet the victory of the plastic bag ban and congestion-pricing (a good law, but one that merely addresses a series of blocks in Manhattan) and while this legislation was long in the making and our legislators are to be commended for it, it is middling in comparison to our need.

Though some will decry the need for faster timelines in the bill, the “Climate and Communities Protection Act” reflects the kind of bold policy initiatives we need. It sets real targeted goals for ending New York’s addiction to fossil fuels.

Why was it not included in the state’s budget? There will be many excuses for this legislative inaction, much finger-pointing. This is immaterial. At this critical hour, there is either legislation or there is not. I am bone-weary of Albany’s intransigence and indolence. We simply do not have time.

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change we have only until 2030 to keep the earths warming to 2 degrees Celsius or face dire consequences. The Fourth National Climate Assessment released by the US government under the Trump administration is equally ominous. We are out of time.

This may all sound extreme but as the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison wrote in 1831, “I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm… tell a mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present.” 

Our global-house truly is on fire. Climate change is not some looming crisis. It is upon us now.

Presently, I am not at home in New York. I’m currently shooting Homeland in Africa where more than half a million people have been displaced by Hurricane Idai, leaving a cholera epidemic blooming in its wake.  The house is on fire. Flooding in Iran (after years of catastrophic drought) is yet another factor threatening political stability. In the U.S., billions of dollars have been swept away in the Midwest “bomb-cyclone.” A strategic nuclear base in Nebraska has been flooded. In New Jersey, right now – so early in the spring - 8,000 acres are burning, presaging yet another disastrous wildfire season. 

While Albany does nothing, our house is on fire.

And this is the moment, when state, county and local action is critical, because the federal administration has fully abdicated its responsibility to address the crisis.

Around the world, children, apparently more clear-eyed than we, are striking – mortgaging their educations in service of the demand that their very futures not be ransacked through inaction.

Albany must move forward out of its indolent quagmire. This is no time for half-measures. The house is on fire.

Tim Guinee is an actor and a leader at Al Gore' Climate Reality Project.

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