2018 brought record-breaking extreme weather events: drought, floods, hurricanes, and the deadliest wildfire in California history, all exacerbated by man-made climate change. Beth Sawin of Climate Interactive and Nathaniel Smith of Partnership for Southern Equity propose that 2019 could be the year when cities turn the grim trends around in a new USN&WR opinion article, New Thinking For a New Year.
Too often, the media positions climate change as something that will affect us in the distant future. But in reality, severe weather already touches, and takes, thousands of lives a year. Beth and Nathaniel succinctly demonstrate how we can shift the way we protect the climate, and in doing so accomplish much more.
The co-benefits of smart, deliberate climate policy are numerous. For example, “When cities are redesigned for biking and walking, fewer greenhouse gases are emitted from vehicles, small businesses on those walkable streets gain increased local spending, residents benefit from active lifestyles, and the health system saves money as diseases associated with lack of physical activity decline.”
If one small action can create so many good outcomes, why don’t we see more multisolving?
Because, when tallying the costs and benefits of climate action, most calculations fail to fully account for either. Common thinking holds that we must sacrifice economic prosperity today by trying to preserve the health of our planet tomorrow, but that’s only part of the picture. “We don’t have to choose between the present and the future. The right investments in climate action can improve public health, create jobs, and improve the quality of life in our cities today.”
Sawin and Smith point out that thinking and acting differently on climate protection must include a focus on equity. In a world where everyone is at risk of the consequences of global warming, that risk is disproportionately distributed to poor people, especially poor people of color. “New parks, public transit, and clean energy make neighborhoods more desirable and rents more expensive. Policies and investments to prevent gentrification must be central to climate action, so that all residents of our communities can afford to live near new low-carbon, high-efficiency amenities.”
There’s no denying the urgency of the climate crisis, but thankfully, the opportunities to be found in addressing it are also becoming clearer. “The need is urgent, so let’s turn, with the turning of year, in a bold direction, integrating the highest standards of equity and justice with the highest climate ambitions. Let’s seize every opportunity to improve people’s lives today in ways that protect the climate for the future.”