Thomas jefferson and Climate Change

This time, we cannot kick the can down the road
From The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Feb 6, 2024

My admiration for Thomas Jefferson is immense. The author of the Declaration of Independence, a president who did so much to forge the strength and stability of our nation, he passionately defended our rights, our freedom, and our security.

And yet, when it came to the most morally troubling issue facing the new nation – slavery – Jefferson decided to kick that can down the road. He wrote in 1825 about the need to dismantle slavery: "I leave its accomplishment as the work of another generation." Biographer Jon Meacham called this "an extremely rare case of the innovative, ever curious, inventive Jefferson refusing to engage in work he knew to be essential. And so he did what he almost never did: He gave up."

"Refusing to engage in work he knew to be essential" – that describes with chilling accuracy the way our current leaders are treating the climate crisis. The level of human suffering that will result from our inadequate response to climate change constitutes the most troubling moral issue facing humanity today. The overall approach of our leaders is, once again, to kick that can down the road, burdening "another generation" with a responsibility that is rightfully ours.

Not only will that "other generation" need to take on the hard work and sacrifices of implementing the solutions we are still postponing, they will also feel the harsh brunt of the suffering that will continue to intensify. We must remember that this "other generation" is not an abstraction: it is our children and our grandchildren, and their descendants for decades and possibly centuries to come.

This is the grim inheritance we are leaving them – a world far less safe than the one we grew up in, filled with climate-driven disasters and the heartbreak, struggles, and losses they will bring. And unless we act boldly and very soon, the effects will be worse than most of us can imagine.

The Biden administration has done more than any other to address climate change. But it has been limited by opposition that drags against real climate progress like the heaviest anchor. Climate denial – driven by the fossil fuel industry and politicians aligned with it – would have us ignore the virtually unanimous warnings of the world’s climate scientists, who clearly see the level of destruction that is coming.

We need to stop kicking this can down the road. Solutions exist today, and even better solutions can be developed with a bold infusion of will and resources. We have performed miraculous transformations in the past, as when we rose up to end the Second World War – when the entire nation got engaged and made sacrifices, when we reorganized entire industries and created revolutionary technological breakthroughs. Our leaders at that time had the foresight and the guts to actually lead, because so much was at stake.

Everything is at stake now. It is beyond time for us to take responsibility for our disrupted climate. That begins with making a commitment to elect leaders with the same foresight, guts, and compassion as those who led us to victory in WWII. Our commitment must be clear, demanding, and unambiguous.