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Guest Column

Climate Crisis: We’re All In It Together

Why aren’t our political systems making a “do or die” effort to reverse this existential threat?

By Bob Brown

The year 2024 will be the most consequential one in the history of the United States. This I believe because the existence of our system of constitutional democracy is being challenged by forces who want to give more authoritarian power to a single leader than has ever happened before. Those opposing the challenge to democracy must always use democratic means in their opposition.

Whether democracy survives this year, an even greater challenge threatens the life-nurturing necessities of the coming decade. Last year was the hottest in recorded history. The polar ice caps are melting, and glaciers from India to Montana are evaporating before our eyes creating an unrelenting rise in sea levels. That is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

To date 20% of the Amazon rain forest has already been destroyed, as well as an estimated 40% of all planetary forests. These forests capture carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and regulate weather patterns, all of which are necessities to our continued existence. 

Severe water shortages are projected to affect 50% of humanity in the next 25 years according to the International Panel on Climate Change. Drastically low levels of Lake Mead are alarming. We’ve already seen the Colorado River reduced to a bed of dry boulders where it once entered the Pacific.

Why aren’t our political systems making a “do or die” effort to reverse this existential threat? The answer is because it’s not easy. There is far more political risk in leading than in blaming. The blame game means attacking proposed solutions that might cause sacrifice. That’s easy. Telling the hard truth may cause the loss of the next election.

As one who has always believed in the democratic will of the people to govern themselves, I believe that the human preservation instinct will prevail. What is required, however, is leadership to show the way.

In preparing for this column, I have found some hopeful suggestions that might not require much political courage, can be accomplished quickly, and will make meaningful progress.   

We need to plant more trees. Millions more. As soon as humanly possible. 

We need to eat more plant-based food and seriously reduce the millions of tons of food we

waste.

We need to greatly increase the manufacture of products that can be recycled. The “circular use” of products needs be a key factor in what we produce.

We need to charge a fee on carbon producers who hurt the environment. Retiring Sen. Mitt Romney says this is the single most important thing we can do. The result will be less carbon pollution, more jobs, and more revenue from large scale corporate polluters to help mitigate serious budget cuts and tax increases that managing the budget requires. According to the IMF, 46 countries currently price carbon emissions through taxes or trading schemes. The U.S. is conspicuously not among them.

We need to produce more nuclear energy. Burning coal is far more lethal to life forms than the production of nuclear power.

Some of these suggestions are within the power of individual people. Others will depend on the democratic process which can require time, but even polarized government can move boldly and quickly if the people demand it. 

One prominent optimist is renowned naturalist Jane Goodall who counts on the resilience of nature, the potential of the human brain, and the powerful idealism of young people. Young and old, liberal and conservative, let’s follow her lead, unify, and act while we still can.

Bob Brown is a former Republican Montana Secretary of State and State Senate President.

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