As if it wasn’t already clear, 2017 provided much more evidence that we are changing our planet in dangerous ways. Here in Montana, fires raged across more than a million acres of grasslands and forests, causing widespread property loss, prolonged periods of unhealthy air quality, and a statewide budget shortfall.
Other states were similarly hard hit. In California, wildfires are burning into the usually calm month of December — destroying thousands of homes and millions of acres of forest. The massive hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria brought unprecedented levels of rain, storm surges and heavy winds — supercharged by unusually warm ocean temperatures — to Houston, parts of Florida and Puerto Rico.
These signs are a planet-wide fire alarm, warning us that we are burning far too much coal, oil and gas. In September, top U.S. climate scientists confirmed that human activities are responsible for practically all of the global warming we are experiencing — and in fact, warming would be even worse if we weren’t also polluting the air with soot particles, which have a cooling effect.
The political climate also changed in 2017. In many ways, it changed for the better in the states, cities and boardrooms across the country where leaders came together to accelerate our transition to clean, climate-safe sources of energy.
A large coalition of leaders confirmed the United States’ commitment to cut pollution, limit global warming and achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, despite the U.S. government’s intention to withdraw from the agreement. Fifteen governors and 2,500 leaders of cities, counties, corporations and universities banded together to pledge collective action. Altogether, these entities represent more than half of the U.S. economy and population. If they were a country unto themselves, they would be the third-largest in the world.
Corporations and universities also implemented bold new plans. For example, this year Google reached 100 percent renewable energy as the power source for its entire operation. More than 100 corporations as well as major institutions of higher learning, including Cornell University, Boston University and Colorado State University have also committed to transitioning entirely to clean energy.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is pouring more gasoline on the fires of climate change. The administration has launched a wide-ranging effort to reverse prior administrations’ actions to reduce pollution: rolling back the Clean Power Plan, weakening Clean Car Standards, declaring an intention to abandon the Paris Climate Agreement, willfully ignoring the risks that climate change poses to national security.
No matter what the administration does, however, the clean energy revolution is unstoppable. Technologies that were once novelties — solar panels, wind turbines, LED light bulbs, electric cars — have become everyday parts of America’s energy landscape. America produces nearly eight times more renewable energy from the sun and the wind than in 2007, while the average American uses 10 percent less energy than a decade ago.
But when it comes to global warming, time is a luxury we don’t have. Despite all the progress we’ve made, U.S. climate action remains insufficient. We need to take the successes of 2017 and build on them, with greater ambition and much wider scope. We need more of the kind of climate change that is taking hold in leading states, cities, and businesses — and less of the kind that threatens our future.
People want less pollution and more clean energy. So in 2018, let’s work together and make it happen.