This Earth Day let’s embrace the numerous effective tools and activities available to address climate change.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how some climate advocates are one-solution advocates. There are electric vehicle (EV) enthusiasts who wave away any discussion of land-use planning or active transit. I’ve heard national speakers on electrification assert that energy efficiency is now irrelevant. I know bus advocates who oppose any discussion of commuter rail and rail advocates who insist buses are infeasible. I know Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) proponents who say skeptical things about EV batteries, just as I know EV advocates who are scornful of RNG technologies.
Climate scientist and Project Drawdown Executive Director, Jonathan Foley, wrote recently that a key to addressing climate change is seeing and playing “the entire chess board,” rather than focusing on one piece or one strategy. The thing is, you see, no one solution is enough. We saw that in the development of our own Dane County Climate Action Plan—it will take substantial progress on multiple dimensions to cut emissions in half by 2030.
Foley's point is important. Not only do we need to acknowledge multiple solutions, we must embrace all of those effective solutions. (Project Drawdown is a good source if you need help identifying what is effective.)
Many climate advocates have a favorite climate solution. It is human nature to try to simplify things—to assert that a favored solution is the solution. The problem is, sometimes advocates of one strategy end up being huge critics of other viable climate strategies that are not their favorite solution. In an attempt to lure resources to their favorite strategy, they jeopardize support for other important strategies.
Some of this is probably jockeying for resources. When we assume scarcity, every climate solution is in competition with every other climate solution for limited resources. Tearing down someone else’s ideas is part of how I garner more resources for my ideas. Except this is not a moment of scarcity. And no one idea is enough—so if I assert my solution is the solution, I’m misrepresenting the scope of our climate challenge, making promises that I cannot deliver and creating false expectations that we can resolve climate change via one technology or action. More, attacking each other hurts our collective efforts.
Be clear on this: the attacks on clean energy solutions only helps the opposition. When we voice skepticism about EV batteries or the challenge of shifting consumer practices, we are helping the opposition sow doubt about clean energy solutions and climate action. When was the last time you heard a fossil fuel executive criticize another fossil fuel? I have never heard oil magnates say disparaging things about coal or vice versa. Polluters tend to stand together, protecting their positions of power.
We need to stand together too. Instead of tearing down other legitimate climate solutions, it is time for us to say yes—yes, we need support for electrification AND we need support for clean energy AND we need support for busing AND healthy food AND biking AND walking too, along with sustainable agricultural practices, energy efficiency, water conservation AND land-use planning. Rather than bickering amongst ourselves, we need to stand together for a clean energy future.
That means leaving behind our fears about scarce resources.
If ever climate advocates had a moment of plenty, it is now. The US public understands climate change is happening and they are increasingly worried. More and more private companies are setting science-based targets. We have a president who is prioritizing climate action, and leadership at state and local levels too. In this moment we need to join together to co-create more sustainable systems forward, rather than worrying over who might get leftover crumbs from the old systems.
At this moment we need to bring all of our good solutions forward and we need to make space for some still-evolving solutions too. If ever there was a “Yes, and” moment, this is it.
So, please, do me a favor this Earth Day. I appreciate that you might have a favorite climate strategy but, to support the broader future we all want to see realized, refrain from throwing shade at other legitimate strategies. Instead, prop up some other climate strategies along with your favorite. With your help I think we can turn the conversation from what is missing to what is possible.
Kathy is the Director in the Dane County’s Office of Energy and Climate Change. In that role she's leading efforts to implement the Climate Action Plan. Prior to coming to Dane County, Kathy led Cool Choices and, prior to that, she led Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program.
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