Real Climate Leadership and Solutions
As we look ahead to a new year and an incoming administration that is making it clear that climate change solutions are a priority -- it's time to talk about which solutions will actually work.
Due to the lack of climate leadership at the federal level over the last four years, local, state, and Tribal governments have stepped into the void. They've had to develop their own efforts to create climate solutions and take action to address climate change locally and even internationally at times. As the Biden administration takes shape, we are already seeing a surge of national leadership in response to the climate crisis. These coordinated actions are needed, critical, and welcome -- making now the time to leverage local momentum and ensure that American communities of all sizes have a seat at the table when decisions are made at the national level.
"Due to the lack of climate leadership at the federal level over the last four years, local, state, and Tribal governments have stepped into the void."
And there's good reason for that: some of the first climate refugees are Alaska Native communities in the western coastal regions, who have seen rapid erosion threaten their homes, families, and traditional livelihoods. In 2019, after 25 years of planning and persistence, the first residents of Mertarvik, AK, moved from their former homes in Newtok, a location across the widening Ninglick River and threatened by erosion from thawing permafrost in the region. It's estimated that climate change in Alaska could cause over $5 billion dollars of damage to infrastructure alone by 2099, not to mention its severe impact on human and environmental health. What's happening in Alaska is happening everywhere. We have already faced increasingly intense catastrophic events (wildfires, extreme storms, etc.) and we will continue to face similar -- or worse -- challenges across the US and around the world.
Facebook Live conversation on national security, climate migration and the climate crisis, streamed on 09/10/2020.
"Tribal nations have long been on the frontlines of climate action, with a long-term vision grounded in a holistic worldview and future generations in mind."
While it's true we need bold climate solutions and direction from the top, we shouldn't ignore the importance of climate actions on the local level. Tribes from Alaska are building on their generations of knowledge about the land they live on and are reaching into their communities to build consensus and to generate ideas that address climate change. Another example: In October 2019, when the local utility company shut off power to help prevent wildfires, Blue Lake Rancheria Indian Tribe's (California) solar energy microgrid fully powered the reservation and serviced 10,000 members of the surrounding community, including emergency health services that saved lives. We, as a nation and planet, need to tap into the momentum demonstrated at the local level that brings critical voices, resources, and big ideas to scale at national and international levels.
"In October 2019, when the local utility company shut off power to help prevent wildfires, Blue Lake Rancheria Indian Tribe's solar energy microgrid fully powered the reservation and serviced 10,000 members ... including emergency health services that saved lives."
Taking this momentum to scale will require the creation of more seats at the decision-making table and may require systemic changes to federal processes. National efforts should include subject matter experts, regional and Tribal representation on federal task forces, and councils to ensure that national climate policy is effective. They need to provide funding to specifically support leadership and action from communities of color and low-income communities that historically face disproportionate impacts from climate change and environmental pollution -- and have not had equal opportunity to be represented in federal processes.
Of course, the most common question when it comes to solving the climate crisis is: how will we pay for it?
"Long-term stability for local climate response planning and actions will require increased investment and improved coordination among federal and state agencies."
Long-term stability for local climate response planning and actions will require increased investment and improved coordination among federal and state agencies. The Green New Deal, for example, provides a vision for inclusive climate solutions that support local communities. Nimble responses to dynamic environmental and social shifts will also require continued innovation of private funding mechanisms, such as social impact investing, green banks, and carbon pricing. Innovative funding mechanisms can empower on a local level, helping to realize the next administration's ambitious national climate agenda.
After four years of failed federal leadership and a year of a global pandemic, the Biden-Harris administration has a unique opportunity to bring American communities to the center of climate solutions. National and local leadership working in tandem will propel broad scale and urgent action and generate working solutions to the climate crisis.