On Friday, four days before Election Day, the Paris global climate accord takes effect, setting the United States, China and more than 185 other countries on track to shift away from the fossil fuels driving climate change and toward cleaner, smarter ways to power our future.
Last month, in Kigali, officials from more than 170 countries agreed to cut the use of climate-disrupting coolants called hydrofluorocarbons, a move expected to avert nearly one degree Fahrenheit of global warming.
And the week before that, in Montreal, more than 190 countries signed on to a plan to reduce the climate harm from jet travel, by improving airline fuel efficiency and investing in clean energy, forest restoration and other projects to offset carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
Consolidating years of concerted diplomacy, the nations of the world have rallied in these weeks around the urgent need to protect future generations from climate calamity by taking strong action to fight the pollution that’s causing it. It’s a historic victory for the kind of global cooperation required to leave our children a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow.
The question before us, as Americans, is whether we’ll build on that promise with further progress, or walk away from these global gains in isolated retreat.
The case for action becomes more urgent each day.
We just wrapped up the hottest summer since global record-keeping began in 1880. A key indicator of long-term climate change, Arctic sea ice in September fell to 28 percent below the 40-year average, tying 2007 figures for the lowest levels in the 47-year satellite record.
Last year was the hottest year ever recorded, and the first nine months of this year have been even hotter, a record 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th Century average. Nineteen of the hottest years on record have all occurred in the past 20 years.
Anyone paying attention sees the problem all around us: in sea level rise that threatens hundreds of billions of dollars worth of property, roads and other coastal infrastructure, from New Orleans to Boston; storms that have brought the kind of rains experts expect just once every several centuries to South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Maryland, Texas and elsewhere, over just the past year; widening desertification that has forced more than 1.1 million Chinese from their homes.
If the threat is clear, so too is our choice on Election Day.
Hillary Clinton understands the growing dangers of climate change. She’s put sound proposals in place to fight it. She’s got plans to advance the climate progress we’ve made over the past eight years by cleaning up our dirty power plants, building the next generation of energy-efficient cars, homes and workplaces. And she’s called for us to create millions of good-paying American jobs by becoming the clean energy superpower of the 21st Century.
Donald Trump might as well be campaigning from a different planet. He’s called climate change a “hoax,” has no plan to fight it and would instead roll back the vital climate progress we’ve made.
His climate change denial and promises to increase fossil fuel use put Trump on the wrong side of science, the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the global consensus for change.
That kind of misjudgment, ignorance and error lies at the root of his three-pronged scheme to set us back a generation in our united efforts to fight climate change.
First, he’s vowed to kill President Obama’s signature climate change initiative. The 2015 Clean Power Plan will cut the carbon pollution from the dirty power plants that account for 40 percent of our nation’s carbon footprint. Big polluters hate that plan – and so does Trump.
Next, he’s said he’ll “cancel” the Paris climate accord. Big oil, coal and gas producers despise the agreement – and so does Trump.
Finally, he wants to lock our children and grandchildren into decades more of fossil fuel dependency, damage and danger. The Jurassic fuels industry doesn’t want us moving forward with cleaner, smarter ways to power our future – and neither does Donald Trump.
The message coming in from Paris, Kigali and Montreal could not be more clear. The people of the world recognize that climate change is a global scourge that threatens us all. Fighting it will take global action that, for each of us, begins at home.
On so many important issues throughout this campaign season, we’ve seen two candidates who are worlds apart. When it comes to climate change, the differences go beyond our world as it is today to impact the world we’ll leave to our children.
Rhea Suh is president of the NRDC Action Fund.