Climate change is the greatest challenge facing the United States—and the world—over the next decade and beyond. The impacts of climate change have already been deadly: More than 3,000 Americans have died in weather- and climate-related disasters in the past two years.1 Public health experts warn that climate change threatens the quality of America’s air and water.2 Natural disasters have cost the United States more than $450 billion in the past three years and are projected to cost $54 trillion globally by 2040.3 By the end of the century, crop damage, lost labor, and extreme weather threaten to shrink the U.S. economy by as much as 10 percent, or $500 billion—almost double the cost of the 2009 Great Recession.4 The U.S. military warns that climate change will multiply the national security threats facing the country. Climate change is a crisis that touches every element of our society. It exacerbates systemic economic and racial inequality and simultaneously threatens public health; national security; the safety and well-being of communities; and the strength of the economy.
A year ago, in October 2018, the issue took on new urgency when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a stark appraisal of the latest climate science: Humanity has only three decades to completely reinvent the global economy in order to eliminate net greenhouse gas pollution and hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.5 The differences between the previous target of 2 degrees and the new target of 1.5 degrees of global warming are startling, including greater harm to food and water supplies; major and potentially irreversible loss of ecosystems, such as the world’s fragile coral reefs; a higher rate of sea level rise; and irreparable loss or collapse of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland.6 Every year of continued emissions raises the peak temperatures that carbon pollution will inflict, threatening destruction that can never be undone.
As the IPCC special report warned, the sheer scale of the challenge now facing the world has no precedent in all of human history. To meet this challenge, the president must organize the whole of government, and Congress must break through deeply entrenched gridlock to enact and execute a sweeping program of legislation. The United States has faced and overcome challenges that, at the time, were unprecedented, including working as a nation to go to the moon, electrifying rural America, and eradicating smallpox. The United States can and must address this crisis by putting people to work; building the necessary infrastructure to overcome the threat; and confronting the economic, racial, social injustices and inequalities that persist today.
Success is within reach, and it’s now possible to visualize a 100 Percent Clean Future. The American public is demanding action, and it’s time for political leaders to summon the courage to act. While the Trump administration has dismantled nearly all federal climate policy, state leadership has risen to the challenge with innovative and ambitious new policies. The combination of the following three pillars—100 percent clean, worker-focused, and environmental justice—should serve as a model for federal action, building on the initial efforts at the state level.
- A 100 percent clean target. Nine states across the country, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have enacted policies to move toward a 100 Percent Clean Future by 2050 or earlier, including through clean electricity standards and aggressive economywide emission reduction targets.7
- A worker-focused approach. Many states have included initial plans for a worker-centered transition that would ensure the jobs necessary to build a clean future are good paying and high quality.
- An environmental justice commitment. Some states have also taken preliminary steps to develop policies that would advance environmental justice, including by identifying and cutting disproportionately high levels of toxic pollution in economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color.