Like most U.S. climate activists, I breathed a sigh of relief as the election returns rolled in.
You didn’t have to be paranoid to fear that Mitt Romney just wasn’t taking seriously the potential devastation in store for us if we don’t change course. The Republican hopeful even tried to score political points by poking fun at President Barack Obama for taking climate change seriously.
And in his acceptance speech, Obama laid out a vision of a nation “that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
Still, it would be naïve to assume that Obama’s victory is a win for the environment or the communities most impacted by climate change.
After all, Obama has yet to break the deafening silence that lasted throughout his long reelection campaign. By failing to even utter the term “climate change,” he’s signaling that he still considers climate deniers a powerful political force. And it makes me nervous when I hear Obama talk about “freeing ourselves from foreign oil” as he did in his acceptance speech.
In the past four years his “all of the above” approach to energy independence has leaned too heavily on expanding drilling, pumping, blasting, piping and fracking for domestic consumption and export. Staying this course means more greenhouse gas pollution, more warming, and more storms like Sandy — or worse.
And his push to expand nuclear power under the guise of “low-carbon” energy is an expensive and toxic diversion from investment in clean renewable energy like wind and solar.
Freed of his campaign obligations and concerns, Obama is now free to be bold. We must hold him accountable for living up to his visionary rhetoric and call him out on the shortsightedness of his energy policy. He said so himself.
“The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote,” Obama said in his acceptance speech.”America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together.”
We can’t sit back and wait for Obama to lead on climate or anything else. We can’t abdicate the political space to Beltway lobbyists — even the ones with green credentials — to negotiate solutions to this most urgent threat. We need to organize and take action.
Here are some inspiring grassroots examples of people who aren’t waiting for our leaders to take action. They’re already building alternatives to our fossil-fueled economy while making their communities more resilient to climate disruption.
- WeACT in West Harlem is fighting for bus-rapid transit as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create public sector jobs, and protect residents’ health.
- The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance‘s Waterfront Justice Project — the Big Apple’s first citywide community resiliency campaign — is working to protect communities from toxic inundation during storm surges.
- Right to the City and Grassroots Global Justice Alliance groups like CAAAV, Picture the Homeless, Make the Road, and many more work to end displacement and economic inequality — which render families particularly vulnerable when climate disasters hit.
- Ironbound Community Corporation, a member of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance is crafting “Zero Waste” solutions that create recycling and composting jobs while drastically reducing climate and toxic pollution from landfills and incinerators.
- The Indigenous Environmental Network has been working with Indigenous communities throughout Canada and the United States, fighting to protect their lands from fossil fuel development like tar sands mines and the Keystone XL, Kinder Morgan, and Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines.
Janet Redman is the co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. www.ips-dc.org