Editorial | Ambition is climate change’s antidote

Lockdown revealed that nature — when given the opportunity — will swiftly restore itself. Whether it was dolphins reappearing in the freshened waters of the Hudson River or whales flourishing off the French coast, humanity’s gloomy withdrawal exposed a bright possibility that nature is observant to sudden societal actions.
As another Earth Day approaches, moreover, society must recognize the need for prolonged, prompt action. Although nature’s recent recovery is spurred by a global pandemic, future climate efforts must also reflect the urgency COVID-19 obtained. Similarly, deadlines for distant dates such as 2035 or 2050 are not sufficient when climate awaits humanity’s inaction.
When crafting climate-related deadlines, leadership — local, national and global — must be ambitious. As much as an existential threat climate change poses, delayed tactics addressing this menace only impede imminent issues.
The University’s Illinois Climate Action Plan indicates its climate goal as net-zero emissions by 2050. Despite this being an adequate start — notably with its promise to divest from fossil fuels by the 2025 fiscal year — this is nowhere near a determined, energetic strategy.
There are, additionally, doubts within the iCAP formulators, with The Daily Illini reporting earlier this year that some iCAP team members distrusted the University would meet its 2050 goals. This misgiving also stemmed from Bill Rose, co-chair of the iCAP Energy team, who stated, “we have the target; we don’t have the plan”
Not exclusive to C-U, across the nation and world it appears that everyone has “targets,” but few implement plans. Possessing a deadline is practical, yet deadlines are more than nice headlines — ambition and effort are required.
In a world continually impaired by climate change, environmental policy can only be ambitious or unsuitable.
Fortunately, the iCAP includes a beginning note from student government representatives who recognize this: “We call on this university to embrace a more aggressive goal in reaching carbon neutrality, ideally no later than 2030.” Besides University students, other national leaders likewise understand this urgency.
During his first week in office, President Joe Biden signed several executive orders aimed at positioning climate change as his administration’s cornerstone. Consequently, Biden reiterated a commitment towards boldness declaring, “This is not a time for small measures … We need to be bold.”
Large corporations like Ford and General Motors — who specifically pledged “all-electric” by 2035 — also have their eyes set on innovative initiatives. The future, accordingly, prevails with climate-oriented procedures: Businesses prioritize and recognize climate change as the opportunity to environmentally pivot for everyone’s benefit.
However, are any of these actions bold — including Biden’s deadline of a “pollution-free electricity sector no later than 2035” — when their goals are decades or more away?
One must concede that fundamental reforms take time. However, Paris climate accord signatories are already on track to exceed their ceiling of 1.5 degrees Celcius within 12 years, and little progress has been made other than public commitments aspiring for greener tomorrows.
Combating climate change is the premiere issue of the 21st century. The effort is cumbersome, but the reward — a habitable planet — is too paramount to be neglected. Nevertheless, establishing deadlines is only the beginning of this arduous journey, not its end.
One compelling model for environmental leadership lies in California’s policies. In a report by the Center for American Progress, California is noted as originating ambitious environmental plans since 1970. By enacting bold and aggressive targets, California has managed to achieve such feats as meeting their 2020 goal in reducing emissions to 1990 levels four years ahead of schedule.
In addition to prioritizing climate policy around other facets like environmental justice and equity, California — led both by Republican and Democrat administrations over the years — has invigorated genuine action, contrasting regularly discounted deadlines.
Animating its inked deals, the Golden State leads the nation in comprehending the present predicament. Utilizing public and private partnerships, as well, California illuminates the appropriate decisions localities and nations will themselves soon undertake.
A deadline is not policy. In a similar vein as students procrastinating assignment deadlines, goals for 2050 and 2035 will not be respected until the timer runs out. Any proposed deadline will matter only when ambitious operations commence.
As climate change inevitably awaits, it is the world’s responsibility to unite against this looming threat. Approaches such as iCAP or Biden’s executive orders are necessary first steps, but they lack the required ambition this menace warrants.
Local leadership and beyond must be bold when countering environmental shifts: Talk is cheap and inaction is out of the question. Ambition, therefore, is essential to sustaining humanity against its alarming adversary.