Redeclaring Our Independence
The 4th of July is fast approaching, marking 245 years since the day the colonies declared their independence and the American Experiment was born. Albeit, against long odds and powerful adversaries.
What's this have to do with World War Zero and the battle against climate change? More than you might think. Sure, there are interesting studies of primary documents that unearth the many ways America's Founders were climate-forward, differing with the most powerful forces of their age. And yes, our Founding Fathers, however flawed, were resolutely pro-science, far ahead of their time. But there's more. Their debates and the foundational documents of this nation are relevant to today's climate fight.
"Isn’t it time we declare our independence from the burdens of climate change? "
Historians who have studied Alexander Hamilton -- our "Ten-Dollar Founding Father" as Lin Manuel Miranda described him -- have openly wondered how a transformative, bold activist like Hamilton would have responded to a threat as existential as climate change. In their mind, there's little doubt:
Hamilton's world required a different type of transition, from small-scale production of food and consumer goods to industrial manufacturing. Hamilton wanted the government to subsidize industry, build infrastructure, limit exports of precious raw materials, and embrace protectionism. He also called for a strong military, both to maintain order in a chaotic world, and because defense spending, then as now, creates demand and drives innovation.
"Whether you believe you can predict how the Founders might have responded to climate change or not -- thinking back 245 years -- some parallels feel eerily relevant, even motivational."
But Hamilton's vision of government policy spurring economic development was opposed ... under Jefferson and Madison's presidencies, the country's economic development was neglected along with national defense. That opened the door for England’s attacks in the War of 1812.
...Only because England was overextended in imperial conflicts elsewhere did they not succeed in reconquering their former colonies here...
"If the lesson of this history for the era of climate change is unclear ... ferocious tree-toppling winds, surging street-flooding tides, floating cars," while a government responds with nothing but "chaotic default and ruin."
Whether you believe you can predict how the Founders might have responded to climate change or not -- thinking back 245 years -- some parallels feel eerily relevant, even motivational. As written in the Declaration of Independence:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another ... and to assume among the powers of the earth ... a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
"...shouldn't we find some inspiration in our Founders' audacity? They had no idea whether their revolution would succeed ... But they tried anyway."
The Founders also wrote about King George's abuse of "imposing Taxes on us without our Consent." And I can't help but think, in recent years we've witnessed:
- Fifteen of the biggest fires in California history occurred in the past 18 years. The costs were staggering: 10.8 million acres burned and $3 billion spent on recovery.
- A study indicating that by 2100, dynamic flooding could impact more than 600,000 people and cause damages to property to the tune of $150 billion.
- Hurricanes Maria, Harvey, and Irma -- incurring damages costing the US $265 billion.
- Historic droughts matched by historic floods.
- Heatwaves collectively that shorted global labor 153 billion hours.
- Infectious diseases that are moving into new areas and higher altitudes.
- Crop yields that are down in more than two dozen countries and by 2050 the Midwestern US could see agricultural productivity drop to its lowest level in decades.
"For my entire life, politicians have touted the goal of energy independence. The dream was initially to break our dependence on oil from a volatile Middle East. Now, it's to be free from carbon-polluting fossil fuels."
The above list is a "Climate Tax." It is the burden on our communities that none of us asked for, to which none of us gave "our Consent," but for which all of us are paying. Isn't it time we declare our independence from the burdens of climate change? And while we're at it, shouldn't we find some inspiration in our Founders' audacity? They had no idea whether their revolution would succeed -- and surely, they knew that if they failed, they were doomed. But they tried anyway. Against extraordinary odds, because they believed in independence -- and believed it was worth sacrificing for.
For my entire life, politicians have touted the goal of energy independence. The dream was initially to break our dependence on oil from a volatile Middle East. Now, it's to be free from carbon-polluting fossil fuels. The dream: To be independent -- to be in charge of our own destiny.
"This revolution is real. We can become the Saudi Arabia of solar energy, the Venezuela of wind. We don't have to wait. That's real American power..."
The starkness of our choices is clear. How terrifying this Fourth of July weekend, as record heat decimates ordinarily cool climates. Mother nature's warning has never been clearer: End our dependence on fossil fuels, or continue to see extreme weather -- and worse.
But also, how exciting that this Fourth of July weekend America is finally knocking on the door of real energy independence. American project developers installed nearly 40% more wind power in the first quarter of 2021 versus that of 2020, which had been the strongest year for clean power ever. And 2020 saw nearly three times the amount of wind added to the grid in its first quarter than 2019's first quarter. Utility-scale solar and energy storage in 2020 exceeded or kept pace with historic levels. Thirteen new wind projects, 15 utility-scale solar projects, and 2 energy storage projects became operational during the first quarter, enough to power nearly 1 million American homes.
This revolution is real. We can become the Saudi Arabia of solar energy, the Venezuela of wind. We don't have to wait. That's real American power: we can declare our independence once again -- for all the right reasons.
We did it 245 years ago. Let's do it again. Happy Fourth of July.