Last year was the hottest on record for the continental United States, and it wasn’t an outlier. The last 12 years have been the warmest years since 1880, the year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began tracking this information. And climate scientists predict that the devastating blizzards, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires we’ve been experiencing lately will worsen due to climate change.
In many ways these punishing weather events feel like Mother Nature seeking revenge for our failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the primary cause of global warming. Despite abundant evidence, the U.S. government has yet to pass a law that would force a reduction in these emissions.
During his first term, President Obama did make climate change a priority, both in his campaign and in office. The American Clean Energy and Security Act that Congress produced passed through the House in June 2009 by a narrow margin. Yet the bill never reached a vote in the Senate, and it died quietly.
Environmentalists have been flummoxed ever since. One prominent cause-of-death theory says that large mainstream (and predominantly white) environmental groups failed to mobilize grassroots support and ignored those who bear a disproportionate burden of climate change, namely poor people of color.
With Obama in for a second term and reaffirmed in his environmental commitments, climate legislation has another chance at life. Now, observers are wondering if mainstream environmentalists learned the right lessons from the first climate bill failure and how they’ll work with people of color this time around.