On Climate Change, An Opportunity for Governors to Embrace the “Art of the Possible”

Last month, my colleague Tony Dutzik wrote about global warming for our biennial “Lay of the Land” blog series. In describing what society must do to take on the challenge of global warming, he wrote:

To act on what may be the world’s last chance to prevent dangerous global warming, we need both to win “art of the possible” policies that can move the needle on carbon pollution immediately and to stretch our imaginations to the limit in search of answers that will turn the global economy toward zero-carbon solutions quickly enough to prevent the worst.

In reading daily reports on melting polar ice caps, rising temperatures, and our closing window to avert disaster, one can lose sight of “art of the possible” solutions, none of which are big enough in and of themselves to solve the crisis. But the fact is, not only are there many winnable policies to reduce carbon pollution, many of them are low-hanging fruit that are achievable right now.

Today we are releasing Climate Solutions from Day One: 12 Ways Governors Can Lead on Climate Now, a new report aimed at America’s 20 incoming governors taking office this month, which focuses solely on those policies that can be put in place through immediate executive action with the stroke of a pen.

As it turns out, new governors have a broad array of tools at their disposal. Upon walking into office, they can immediately set statewide clean energy goals, ensure that state government fleets go electric, and form regional climate partnerships like the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a new collaboration between nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Some governors can even use executive action to make important statewide policy changes, like setting vehicle emission standards, updating building energy codes, or ensuring climate-conscious transportation spending.

These steps can also help build a vision for a low-carbon future. As Tony put it, to make real transformative change, we must do the work of politically “depolarizing our response to the climate crisis.” As new governors act, they have the chance not just to set policy, but also to engage with voters across the political spectrum, use their bully pulpit to educate and organize, and build political support around the broad health and societal benefits of smart climate policy. Over the long term, this work to build consensus may be as important as any policy change.

The work of taking on climate change will be long and complicated, and new governors should take the time to grapple with complex questions. But before all that, they should move as fast as they can to put in place climate policies that we already know work, and that can set the stage for more transformative changes in the years ahead. There’s no time to waste.

Photo: North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. Credit: North Carolina Governor’s Office