Last week, PSR participated in the ‘100 for 100’ rally for clean energy on the National Mall. Watch video of the event here and read the transcript of PSR Environment & Health Intern Henry Lynett’s speech below.
Speech by Henry Lynett, PSR Environment & Health Intern
When I first thought about what to say about climate change here today, I thought I’d begin by discussing what the world will look like in 50 years. Fifty years. I painted a dark, looming picture of a country riddled with damaged ecosystems, stronger hurricanes than ever, flooding on the coasts, and countless public health crises. The world my children would be growing up in, blanketed in the negative effects of climate change. You know, opening with some doom and gloom before flipping the coin and telling you all what we can do to prevent it.
Shortly thereafter, when discussing my ideas with my supervisor, she pointed out something that I had failed to realize. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I was so caught up in my dramatic scene-setting that I missed it entirely. We don’t have 50 years. Honestly, experts aren’t sure if we have 25. If we do nothing, if we’re unable to cut our greenhouse gas emissions significantly, in 50 years, the planet will be unrecognizable. In just 20 years, we will be well beyond the point of no return. With every day that passes, the window of opportunity to enact bold climate and energy policy gets smaller and smaller.
This is not some dark, threatening vision of the future intended to scare those who would oppose said policy. In fact, we are already seeing the effects of climate change in our world today.
Non-renewable energy is the number one contributor to climate change around the world. Global temperatures are up approximately 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the pre-industrial era, roughly 140 years ago, and experts estimate that within half that time, just 70 years from now, global temperatures could rise up to 13.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Could you imagine if it was 101 degrees out right now? The United States has an opportunity to set a clean energy precedent not only for our nation’s future, but for that of the entire planet. We are in an incredible position of power to invest in clean, renewable energy, and move our country, and our world, towards a greener future.
This rise in temperature manifests itself in many ways. Just three weeks ago, a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, a region known for its cool climate, killed nearly 800 people. As our planet warms, disasters like this will become more and more common, with experts estimating a fivefold increase in events like droughts and heatwaves over the next half-century. As our atmosphere warms, so will our oceans, increasing the strength, duration, and frequency of hurricanes, which already cause up to 54 billion dollars of damage annually, and cost many human lives.
Speaking of human lives, climate change will also have unprecedented effects on public health all over the world. Rising temperatures and more extreme weather will result in increases in heat-related illnesses, cardiovascular disease, and injuries and fatalities due to natural disasters. Rising sea levels and increasing levels of CO2 will affect water quality and spread disease in the poorest parts of the world, while here at home, we will see instances of forced migration, respiratory illnesses, and ripple effects on our larger public health, whether they be physical or mental.
Our climate is already changing, but our future is not set in stone. By pledging to enact bold climate policy, we can curb these negative effects considerably. Although we cannot reverse the effects of climate change, we can halt our warming climate, and, over time, begin to undo some of the damage we’ve already done.
No single law can possibly tackle the enormous set of factors that contribute to climate change. If we hope to have any chance at a green future, we must not only pass wide-reaching legislation, but also ingrain greener thinking into our nation’s infrastructure and industry. We must pass legislation that targets broad objectives, such as decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels and transitioning to clean energy, while also combating harmful legislation and projects, such as the Line 3 and Mountain-Valley pipelines, which run through Minnesota and West Virginia, respectively. Projects like these have no place in America’s green future, not only for the purpose they serve, but for the countless harmful effects they have on the areas they occupy. While large-scale legislation is essential to achieving our broad climate goals, we must not forget to be vigilant, and confront projects that pose a threat to America’s water, public lands, and Indigenous communities.
By pledging to transition to 100% clean energy by 2035, the United States can counteract many of the negative effects of climate change. Achieving 100% clean energy would decrease our greenhouse gas output by almost 25%, a whopping portion of our total emissions. This will not only slow the warming of our atmosphere, but also decrease the negative health effects we can attribute to climate change.
Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions will also decrease the frequency of heatwaves and droughts, and slow the increasing strength of hurricanes, which will save billions of dollars in damages, as well as human lives. It will also decrease air pollution, causes over 100,000 premature deaths each year. In total, a clean energy standard would help avoid more than 1.7 trillion dollars in health and environmental costs, as well as prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths, through 2050.
Make no mistake, climate change is not coming, climate change is here. The longer we wait to pass comprehensive energy policy, the less time we will have to combat the effects of our changing climate. It is well within our reach to create a world with clean air and water, a healthy climate, and reliable energy solutions for generations to come. By committing to 100% clean energy by 2035, the United States sends a clear message to her people, and to the world, that we will not be the victims of our climate, and that we, as a species, must prioritize our health, our safety, and our people above all else.