Denial Versus Pragmatic Solutions

BY ON December 7, 2018

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Martin Luther King’s dream of 100% racial equality was large, encompassing—and crystal clear in its vision of justice. He did not have a dream that in twenty-five years, racism would subside by 25%.

I mention this because I reread King’s dream speech the day after the release of the latest report from the internationally-acclaimed team of climate scientists; this is the second installment, and it focuses entirely on the impacts of climate change on the United States. The urgency of now hit me like a ton of bricks. There is no way to read this report and not be alarmed.

We ought to be marching in the streets, demanding that the leadership of this country get us on the road to climate safety. Denial at this point is criminal.


One of the biggest deniers is Andrew Wheeler, the man who will soon be nominated to run EPA. Moms Clean Air Force opposes his nomination. Wheeler is actively undoing all efforts to cut the methane and carbon pollution that are warming our world. His boss, President Trump, is also taking us further from climate safety.


Recently, in Axios, I read an interview with Bill Gates that knocked me sideways. Gates was talking about how climate chaos will impact people in unfair ways.

“The rich will be disappointed on vacations: Our visits to coral reefs won’t be as nice as they’ve been in the past. But the poorest will starve: The people who didn’t do the emissions are the ones who will suffer the most.”

True — but profoundly limited. Right now, the poor are indeed suffering the most. They do not have the means to rebuild homes lost to fire or flooding, just to take an example out of recent headlines. Worldwide, the same thing is happening. It is completely, utterly unfair.

But perhaps Gates’ comments give us a clue as to why so many of the wealthy in our government now think it is okay to do nothing about climate change; it’s just fine to squeeze for themselves every last dollar out of oil, gas, and coal.

They think they are safe. They think their grandchildren will be safe — forever.

They are wrong.


For a while, the rich will be more insulated from catastrophe, with abundant access to health care, house and flood insurance, food, and clean water. But that won’t last. This isn’t a problem about ski vacations or snorkel trips, for anyone.

The entire point of the warnings scientists are shouting, by now, is that everyone will suffer. By supercharging and super speeding climate change, we are in danger of destroying much of human civilization that has grown up and thrived in a stable climate for roughly 12,000 years.

No one wins. Everyone, everyone is in harm’s way. The recent report underscores how hugely expensive the damage from climate change will be for this country. I turn to Dr. King’s words because they have a moral clarity that we are so sorely missing right now. We don’t have racial equality yet. But his words keep the goal shining brightly. King told his listeners that this is “no time…to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” We will get nowhere, fast, if we don’t organize behind a large, encompassing vision — and mobilize hard and fast. That’s what stokes the fires of hope.


Dr. King spoke of “the fierce urgency of now.” Happily, around the country, leaders of cities and states get it. They are mobilizing around solutions. Their alarm leads them to pragmatism.

Urgency. It is the reason I am always, always, always excited by people and movements demanding big, urgent change. We should cheer them on. Children suing big oil and gas companies for selling off their futures. Students chaining themselves to the White House fence in protest of denial. Grandmothers putting themselves in the way of pipelines. Politicians proclaiming a Green New Deal. We stand in solidarity with their work.

A fierce urgency means mobilizing behind a clear vision: 100% Clean Energy. Fast. We can, with political will, do this in ten years. We can transform our energy systems and deliver enormous economic benefit as well as protect our family’s health. And that is the only possible, sane, moral response to what scientists are telling us.

I’ll close with Dr. King:

“we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”

Take every chance you get, make every chance you can, to tell your political representatives that we have a moral responsibility to stop climate pollution as fast as possible. Disrupt this radical denial agenda—and help us get on course to climate safety.


TOPICS: Activism, African-American Community, Air Pollution, Children's Health, Climate Change, Economics, Politics, Social Justice