Make The Earth Great Again

Never let a good crisis go to waste. These words, attributed to Winston Churchill, are particularly relevant today. The Trump presidency is a crisis for the US and for the world—nothing less. But it could also inspire a revolution that is long overdue. Revolutions are built on outrage that is channeled into a common vision for a better future. Trump won the US presidential election by tapping into the unrest of a large minority of Americans who are frightened and frustrated by the changes they see and feel in their country and in the world. His soothing, misleading promise is: we’re gonna stem the flow of job-stealing immigrants, screen all Muslims for connections to ISIS, undo bad trade deals, end Obamacare, dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency and its regulations for lowering carbon pollution, defund climate science, (and the list goes on) and “make America great again”. A majority of American voters rejected Trump’s message on election day. But what vision will replace it and unite the currently fragmented response to Trump’s victory? We need a unifying vision that resonates in the US and globally. This vision must provide a stark alternative to Trumpism; it must be forward-looking, optimistic, and grounded in truth. It must embrace cultural and religious diversity, chart a plausible pathway to enduring, inclusive prosperity, and celebrate the core values of mutual respect, kindness, ingenuity and free expression. At the core of a counter-Trump revolution is a healthy planet—an Earth that is climatically stable, verdant, productive, and biologically diverse. Forced migrations, civil war, human suffering and grinding poverty are all at risk of escalating as our carbon pollution makes the climate unstable and violent, as soil erosion, river diversion and aquifer depletion restrict food production and fuel inter-ethnic tensions, as wild fisheries are overexploited and native ecosystems are degraded and destroyed. A global anti-Trump movement is a global Make-the-Earth-Great-Again movement. This “MEGA” movement is not starting from scratch. A bottom-up strategy for solving climate change, healing the Earth, and building more resilient, inclusive societies has been quietly taking shape over the last few years. This strategy is less vulnerable to national election mistakes because it features states, provinces and other “subnational” regional governments and the societies that put these governments in power. And very importantly: these progressive regional governments are organized. Regional governments have created partnerships, public policies, and programs for speeding the transition to low-carbon, socially-inclusive, prosperous economies. In a new iteration of the “California Effect”, first coined when this state’s anti-pollution requirements for automobiles pushed the entire industry towards cleaner vehicles, the State of California is in the lead again. Governor Jerry Brown’s “Under 2 MOU”, which commits signatories to do their part in preventing global warming beyond two degrees Celsius, is moving fast. He initiated the Under 2 MOU in May of 2015. It has now been signed by 155 subnational governments whose combined economies are one third of the world’s GDP, including many jurisdictions in China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies. Some of the biggest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions achieved to date anywhere in the world took place through another subnational alliance that was born in California—the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, or “GCF”. In the Brazilian Amazon alone, GCF member states, with help from the Brazilian government’s policy innovations, have avoided nearly 5 billion tons of CO2 pollution by slowing deforestation more than 70%. This is the largest contribution to climate change mitigation on record today and represents a 1.5% decline in global emissions. It was achieved while agricultural production grew and formal recognition of indigenous peoples’ territories expanded. In 2014, GCF members states, containing most of the forests of Indonesia, Peru, the Brazilian Amazon and large forest areas in Mexico, launched the “Rio Branco Declaration”, pledging to slow deforestation 80% by 2020 if adequate finance and market partnerships materialize. My friend Governor Tião Viana of Acre State, located in the Brazilian Amazon region, is on track to end illiteracy in his state by 2019, and lower infant mortality—all as he slows deforestation, associated carbon pollution, and lifts forest-dependent rural communities out of poverty. In his recent conversation with Governor Jerry Brown he said: “Our economy is 700 times smaller than California’s, but our contribution to climate change mitigation is almost as big as what your state will achieve by 2030. We can’t do this alone.”
What will it take for these partnerships, alliances and pledges to achieve their full potential and make the Earth great again? The simple answer is: money, markets, and recognition. Political leaders need to translate their ambitious plans for building green, low-carbon, socially-inclusive economies into votes, and the best way to do this is through prosperity, jobs, and opportunities that are available to all ethnicities and cultures. There is another key ingredient to this bottom-up revolution’s success: new alliances. The global partnerships that are forming around climate change solutions are grand experiments are charting multiple sustainable pathways into the future.  These bold initiatives can grow to systematically address racism, religious intolerance, and civil rights violations, and in many cases are already doing so. Trump’s election is a wake up call—a clear demonstration of the fragility of the world order. Let us not squander the opportunity this crisis provides to make the Earth great again.

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