I want to talk about "the most crucial challenge facing humanity today," in the words of U.N. Prime Minister Ban Ki-moon. When we look back on today 20 years from now, we won't remember the gifts or the family squabbles, but we may wonder just what was so important that we didn't seem to notice that our planet is going to hell in a hand basket.
I can only imagine that this is how the Roman middle class must have felt during the glory days of the Roman Empire. We watch with horror at the terrifying injustice and with shame at the incredible excesses of our empire. The big question before us: Will we be like Nero and fiddle while Rome burns, or will we be like the slave revolt leader Spartacus and take matters into our own hands?
2014 is upon us. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the Nobel Peace Prize said we must reverse the growing greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 to prevent serious tragedies. IPCC head, Rajendra Pachauri says that "what we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.''
This is our defining moment as Americans. We are sheltered by our wealth from many of the hardships the world's poor face because of climate change. Do we continue to look the other way and pretend that we don't see them, like with so many homeless people in the train station?
At the International Conference on Climate Change in Bali, the U.S. delegation scoffed at the idea of helping poorer countries adapt to a changing climate. After being roundly criticized by other developed nations, our delegation finally relented.
Our government passed the first major increase in fuel economy standards in over 20 years. Automakers must have a combined fleet-wide average of 35 MPG by 2020. That means we'll still have SUV's, but we'll also have smaller cars and hybrids. What were scrapped from this important energy bill were renewable energy incentives. Utilities lobbied against a mandated 15 percent of power from renewable sources.
The bill was threatened with a presidential veto if it included a House-sponsored repeal of $16 billion in tax breaks for big oil. It is clear that the polluters run our government.
One Spartacus, Ted Glick from the Climate Crisis Coalition, went on a protest fast because of this bill for over 100 days. He warns that "throwing taxpayer money at wealthy utilities is not the way toward a sane, sustainable-energy future." He is referring to a proposed omnibus energy loan package benefiting coal, nuclear and big energy interests that may get tacked on to the bill in the Senate. Glick is demonstrating that we have to do more than just vote. Sometimes we have to take risks.
We need to hold our government accountable for its actions as well as its inaction. None of these politicians will still be in office when the bill comes due, and our children are required to pay the cost of government inaction. Climate change, like equal rights, is one issue that will have to be led by the people. We need to start at a local level and work our way up.
An example of this is New York City Council and Mayor Bloomberg, who put a carbon cap in place that will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent over the next 23 years. If a city of 8.1 million people can pledge to be part of the solution, why can't we? In the words of the Apollo Alliance, "We are the heroes we have been waiting for."
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her [email protected] To find out more about Shawn Dell Joyce and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.