Hillary Takes a Stand on the Climate Crisis — Will She Go All the Way?

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On Tuesday, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton delivered a major speech about climate change at a campaign rally in Miami with former Vice President Al Gore. Here's our take.

First, the good:

  • Clinton said climate change threatens our national security.

  • She talked about the fact that Hurricane Matthew was worsened by the climate crisis.

  • She said renewable energy will be a huge creator of high-paying jobs, and is indeed already the fastest growing source of new jobs in the U.S.

  • She called for America to become the “clean energy superpower of the 21st century."

  • She said we need to invest in resilient infrastructure, modernize our electric grid, and retrofit buildings.

  • She emphasized that no community must be left out or left behind in the transition to a clean energy economy.

  • She said Al Gore, who has called for a WWII-scale mobilization against climate change, would advise her on the issue.

And most importantly, she made this statement:

"Climate change is real, it is urgent, and America can take the lead in the world in addressing it. We here in America can develop new clean energy solutions, we can transform our economy, we can rally the world to cut carbon pollution, and above all, we can fulfill our moral obligation to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren."

Putting this issue front and center is a welcome relief in Florida, where Governor Rick Scott has banned state employees from even using the words “climate change."

This is a step forward for Clinton, and for our country, from the 2012 election, when presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were both virtually silent about climate change on the campaign trail.

The contrast couldn’t be clearer with her opponent Donald Trump, who believes that climate change is a hoax and promises that “coal will last for a thousand years in this country.”

But Clinton has a unique opportunity to lead much more boldly toward climate reality. The Democratic Party’s national platform now calls for a national and global mobilization against the threat on a scale not seen since World War II, which is precisely what is now needed to save civilization. If Clinton is to rise to the challenge of our time, and fulfill the promise of the party’s platform, she will need to win the election with a broad mandate for a WWII-scale climate mobilization. That means addressing the climate emergency head-on before election day.

The threat isn’t just “urgent.” As the Democratic platform recognizes, it’s an acute emergency. The earth is already dangerously hot; we have already passed above 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

We don’t just need to “cut” our greenhouse gas emissions. We need to eliminate them at wartime speed, within a decade for a strong chance of restoring climate safety. That means raising ambitions much higher than the Paris Agreement’s goal of reaching net zero emissions “early in the second half of this century,” which Al Gore cited in his speech on Tuesday. This will require regulating all sources of greenhouse gas emissions across the economy, including agriculture — not just energy. Then we need to go carbon negative as quickly as humanly possible. A massive carbon dioxide drawdown effort must begin immediately in order to start reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations and restoring a safe climate.

That’s why it makes no sense to continue fracking and expanding the production of natural gas, which Clinton named as a “bridge fuel” in the second presidential debate, even though it continues to emit potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It’s time for an extremely rapid, managed decline in the production of all carbon-based energy.

Clinton’s platform raises expectations beyond the status quo on clean energy, calling for America to install 500 million solar panels by the end of her first term, and to generate enough renewable energy to power every home the country within the decade. A national mobilization can go further. Al Gore has advocated a goal of 100% renewable electricity within a decade, and energy analyst Tom Solomon recently estimated that to achieve 100% renewable energy in even two decades would require building and installing 597 million solar panels annually.

In the first 100 days of the next presidential administration, Democrats are now committed to convening “a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.” Clinton has only to gain by campaigning openly on this promise of a climate emergency summit, especially if her campaign is serious about motivating young people, who are most alarmed about the climate emergency, to turn out to vote in November.

One of the most consistent themes expressed throughout Clinton's campaign, and throughout her entire career in public service, is a concern for the well-being of children — indeed she has continued to roll out proposals aimed at children at this late stage of her campaign. What better way to drive this theme home than by leading to ensure that today's children and young adults have a livable future in a secure civilization, against an emergency that threatens devastating upheaval, mass death, and utter chaos within their lifetimes?

We believe that, in the appropriate social context, Hillary Clinton is capable of launching the WWII-scale climate mobilization that we need. We believe that if she does save America and the world from catastrophic collapse, her legacy will outshine even those of Lincoln and FDR. But an extraordinary mass movement must rise to the challenge of our time to make that mobilization possible, and we must continue organizing every day to build that movement. For a livable future, there is no other option.

As The Climate Mobilization's strategy director Ezra Silk wrote about this election:

"Everybody has a role to play in this great mobilization to save civilization. We must assume responsibility for the future and act as though everything is on the line, because it really is this time. That means making wise, strategic choices, taking responsibility for actually solving the crisis, and welcoming everyone into a beloved community that breathes new life into our sick nation and dying civilization."

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This was republished on Daily Kos.