Presidential Climate Summit 2013: The Opportunity to Break the Status-Quo and Ignite Solutions

By Valerie Serrels, Associate Director of Kids vs Global Warming | 

I welcomed 2013 with some uneasy, or stifled, hope. This spark of hope was kindled as I sat in a White House conference room with a group of very diverse partners committed to a very common goal. I felt grateful and honored to be part of this meeting representing the hopes and needs of the youngest generation. This generation understands what is at stake more than any other.

What is at stake is quite simply their future. Their future food and water security, planetary and lifestyle sustainability, and safety. The release this week of the draft National Climate Assessment affirms what we already know is true. The danger of inaction in light of scientific evidence of a rapidly changing planet brings both fear and resolve to young people.

Our young founder, Alec Loorz, said about the report: “The draft report is consistent with what most people of my generation already inherently sense: Our futures are at stake. We hope that the findings in this report will awaken urgent action to reduce emissions and commit to massive reforestation so that the planet we inherit will be livable. President Obama has said that our nation has an obligation to future generations to take action on climate change. These words give us hope and now we need to see those words put into action. We call on all youth to stand with parents, communities and our leaders to be part of the solutions NOW so that the youngest generation will not have to bear the burden of the climate crisis later. We need our nation to live as if our future actually matters, which will require a new mindset that values nature and future generations more than profits and convenience.”

There are many great ideas springing up to tackle the complexities of climate change. One of the most hopeful for 2013 has come from an unlikely group of non-profits that includes Kids vs Global Warming. This is not an assemblage of the powerful green organizations, nor do any of us consider ourselves “environmental” groups. What has brought us together is our common appeal that action be taken NOW arising from a moral and ethical sense of obligation, justice, and compassion. Our common goal brought us to the idea of a Presidential Summit on Climate Change.

This Summit would bring together the best solutions and practices to build resiliency and also focus on the imperative of emissions reductions. It would have sessions on the science of climate change, of course, but mostly would focus on “what we can do now.” After successful meetings with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, we have been encouraged to expand support for a Summit to include every sector of civil society. So far, our non-partisan coalition represents many stakeholders in the climate conflict: businesses, insurance, the economic sector, veterans and the military sector, farmers, national faith groups from across the spectrum, and those representing people of color, to design a Summit and work with the President to lead it.

We need a Summit, and we need the President to lead it. We don’t need another photo op for the President or other political members to toot their horns about what they’ve done. Which is why we need to stay involved, and why youth need to be at the center. While there was much talk at our meetings about the worries of the President and the nation about jobs and economic growth; the reality is, there will be no jobs or economic growth without a viable planet. Seen through a different lens, the climate crisis is an opportunity for the President, and our nation, to move forward to a sustainable economy that will support the well-being of future generations. There is tons of economic opportunity. Conversely, we cannot afford NOT to. We can’t afford it financially, with more economic and societal collapse from the impacts of climate change, and we can’t afford to morally ignore the call to action from the youngest generation. A society has no more basic duty than to protect the natural systems that sustain its people. Young citizens have no more basic right than to inherit a livable planet.

President Obama has both the moral and ethical obligation to prioritize climate change in his Presidency; but also has an opportunity to leave a legacy as the President who had the courage to stand up and do what is right. This is his “Lincoln moment” to make some difficult decisions. Like Lincoln, he needs to prioritize justice over any easy peace with the current economic foundation. The economic foundation during Lincoln’s time was based on the backs of slaves. Our current foundation is based on fossil fuels, and the youngest and future generations will bear the resulting injustice. It is wrong to continue to benefit from a system that robs and destroys our planet, and steals our children’s inheritance.

We need each other. All of us – parents and children, teachers and scientists, city councils and state legislative bodies, Republican and Democrat, religious and secular, to join in concerted action to pressure the President to lead us forward. Before it’s too late.

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