Our kids need us to act fast on climate change

Heather McGhee / Demos

Last October, when my infant son was just one month old, I read the U.N. climate report that said that we have 12 years to act in order to prevent climate change’s worst effects: pandemics, mass extinctions, mass food shortages, and millions of refugees from lands that are no longer arable. What we thought we had decades to do — a better Administration, a better Senate map — we in fact have to start now. For all Americans who are not buying the fossil fuel-funded climate denialism, it is difficult to go about your day-to-day activities and really hold the truth of what is barreling towards us. I fear for my son’s future, and for all our children.

Then the hopeful youth of the Sunrise Movement brought us a game-changer. Politicians are usually only as courageous as social movements make room for them to be, and by demonstrating in soon-to-be House Speaker Pelosi’s office and organizing members of Congress around the vision of a Green New Deal, the generation with everything to lose made us see that we can address inequality and climate change — both crises brought to us by a broken democracy — now.

Last weekend, I was on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and, with minutes left in the program, the topic turned to the recorded meeting between Sen. Dianne Feinstein and some of her young constituents who have become active with Sunrise. The youth were asking their Senator to support a Senate version of the House Green New Deal Resolution instead of her own, watered-down version. The awkward and disappointing meeting catalyzed a debate among Democrats over the weekend that fell largely along generational lines. Older Washington veterans defended Feinstein on the merits, arguing that she was being realistic because a more modest climate change resolution would have a better chance of passing.

On live television, a journalist I respect enormously, Andrea Mitchell, gave voice to that defense. I pushed back — disagreeing without being disagreeable, not questioning her intentions but rather her prescription. I named what was dividing us as “a difference of urgency.” I continued, “for anyone who has children…” and that’s where I got choked up. It has never happened to me before on television, but I thought of my son’s face in that moment, and the tears threatened to fall. What wouldn’t I do to protect him, to leave him a world worth living in?

I went on to say, “There is no higher responsibility of anyone with any kind of political power right now than to try to stop a global catastrophe that’s not happening in three generations. It’s happening now.” I also accidentally said that all of the coral reefs would be gone “in this country” instead of “in the world,” but hey, it was live television.

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