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Where Does the Climate Movement Go Next?

In its latest major ruling, the Supreme Court has made it harder for America to fight the climate crisis.

Yesterday’s decision limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants — which, as we reported in The Daily, is a blow to the Biden administration’s commitments to cut emissions by 2030. So we wanted to ask someone with experience in both climate change and climate change. Activism and Federal Policy Making: Where is the Climate Movement Heading?

Below, former Vice President Al Gore shares his thoughts.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.

The Supreme Court has just ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority, making it more difficult for the US to meet its climate commitments by 2030. What must be done now to ensure federal progress on emissions reduction?

While this ruling curtails some of the EPA’s authority, it doesn’t mean we run out of options for tackling the climate crisis. There is more we can – and should – do. It is more important than ever that Congress takes action on this issue.

But the climate crisis is not a challenge that only the federal government should address. West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency was a case brought against the federal government by states in which the fossil fuel lobby still has significant power. The climate movement has important work to do at the federal level, but we cannot ignore the importance of states and local governments in driving and blocking climate progress.

In light of the ruling, where should the energy of the climate movement be directed next?

We need to encourage state and local governments to redouble their efforts to reduce emissions, and we also need to see the private sector rise and align their climate pledges with action. They played a vital role in advancing progress in the climate crisis as action stalled under the previous administration.

This decade is crucial for climate action and we need all hands on deck to tackle this crisis. That means calling on Congress to pass ambitious climate legislation this summer. It also means getting everyone frustrated by the slow pace of climate action to vote in this year’s midterm elections.

You wrote“To tackle the climate crisis, we need to tackle the democracy crisis.” Is American Democracy in Crisis? How do you propose that we win? congress stalemate that stand in the way of climate action?

We are facing a crisis of American democracy, one that extends far beyond our ability to cope with the climate crisis. The balance of power in our country has been disrupted and shifted from the people to corporations and special interests. Fossil fuel companies and their allies have undermined the progress of the climate crisis for decades. In recent years, we’ve seen the same kind of influence-peddling progress on everything from gun violence prevention to civil rights.

To face this crisis, we must not only prioritize reforms that will put power back in the hands of the people, but also reconcile the disruption of our media landscape caused by a similar power imbalance.

What is your theory of change when it comes to climate activism?

A crisis of this magnitude and magnitude requires swift action at all levels and must involve voices from all backgrounds. The climate crisis is a problem that lies at the intersection of the major challenges we face today: inequality and injustice, public health, food availability, immigration and much more.

As with all morally grounded movements that have come before it—from the abolition of slavery to women’s rights to the civil rights movement to the LGBTQ movement—change cannot come from above alone. It has to come from below.

You have to make daily decisions about where you want to focus your work. Which tactics to mobilize climate action have been most successful? And what do you think are your top priorities right now?

The most effective catalyst for climate action has been Mother Nature. As the effects of the climate crisis have deepened in recent years, we have seen a significant shift in public opinion and a resurgence in climate activism. A report released last week found 77 percent of those who have experienced climate-related extreme weather events view global warming as a “crisis” or a “major problem” and are much more likely to take action. As a result, businesses and governments alike are promising bolder action than ever before. About 74 percent of global emissions come from countries with a net zero commitment. Thousands of companies have committed to net zero.

But we know that words do not equate to deeds. Therefore, our priority now must be to drive accountability around these commitments and bring radical transparency to greenhouse gas emissions.

The escalating climate crisis will force Americans to ask tough questions like “Which cities are worth saving?What do you think are the most important sacrifices that citizens will have to make in the coming years?

Unfortunately, our main sacrifices will not be the choices we make, but the consequences we will have to deal with for not acting in time to prevent the consequences of the climate crisis. Communities will remain displaced by rising sea levels, extreme weather events, wildfires and more.

However, measures to solve the climate crisis need not be a matter of sacrifice. Rather, climate action can benefit our communities. For example, smart investments in energy efficiency can create jobs (which naturally cannot be outsourced) and greatly reduce energy costs.

The war in Ukraine has prompted President Biden to backtrack on his ambitious climate commitments. How important has the war been to global climate action?

The United States and every other country around the world has reached a critical turning point regarding the climate crisis, which certainly increases the risk of relapse, although I believe history will see this as accelerating our transition from fossil fuels.

This is a war made possible by our continued reliance on fossil fuels. The unfortunate reality of the market for these global commodities is that despite embargoes on Russian oil and gas (which I strongly support), Putin will continue to benefit from our global addiction to these energy resources. Only by shrinking the market for these products can we undermine its power. We need more solar and wind and electric vehicles and everything else that will allow us to get rid of fossil fuels for good.

This should be a moment of global revelation, not moral cowardice. It is clear that our reliance on fossil fuels poses a significant and ongoing threat to democracy around the world. We must embrace the shift away from fossil fuels and refuse to allow democracy to be held hostage by petrostates like Russia.

Your investment company is betting that strategic investments can accelerate the green transition. How would you respond to those who say that capitalism in its current form is incompatible with climate justice?

It has been clear for some time that capitalism as we know it is in need of major reforms. We have a lot of work to do to use capitalism as a vehicle for a just transition. This is the case here in America, where systemic racism has led to environmental injustice and economic inequality for generations. It also applies internationally, with developing countries that have contributed the least to the climate crisis being hit the hardest.

We need mechanisms to facilitate the flow of capital to countries and communities on the front lines of the climate crisis. Likewise, we need safeguards to ensure that investment in climate solutions plays a role in environmental justice. After all, if a company claims to offset the emissions of a coal-fired power station in one municipality by planting trees halfway around the world, residents of the municipality near that coal-fired power station still suffer from polluted air and water.

The climate crisis can feel vast and intractable. How do you ensure that the crisis feels accessible – and doable – for the general public?

This is such an important question because more and more people are feeling a sense of climate despair and fear as the crisis worsens. Despair can be as powerful a force against climate action as denial has been.

The main way to empower people in this matter is to give them hope. The climate crisis may feel unmanageable, but it is not impossible to solve.

From renewable energy to electric vehicles to agricultural advances and efficiency, we have solutions to this crisis that we can implement today. That may mean starting small and improving your home’s energy efficiency, but it doesn’t have to stop there. I have often said that while it is important to change the light bulbs, it is even more important to change the laws.

That means voting in every election you qualify for. It means speaking out at City Hall to encourage action at the local level, or running for a local office yourself. It means getting involved in your company’s sustainability programs or starting them if they don’t exist. While your personal efforts may start small, when you take action, your network will grow rapidly, making a much bigger impact than you initially imagined.

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