We can't save the planet with half measures. We need to go all the way

(The Guardian, 2 May 2019) It is our duty as a generation to push against the limits of the possible and protect as many lives as we can from disasters that can be prevented.

When Beto O’Rourke launched his presidential campaign, I was impressed. On multiple occasions, including as recently as April, O’Rourke backed calls to effectively zero out all domestic emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change by 2030, and said we’re screwed if we aim for anything less.

On Monday, he shifted the goalposts back. He released a detailed climate plan, his first policy proposal of his campaign. There’s a lot to like. He pledged to make climate action a day one priority and included an expansion of resources for climate resiliency and adaptation. But he also pushed back the timeline to achieve net-zero emissions to 2050. Our movement was sad to see him let up on his ambition as he rolled out the specifics, before we even give it a try.

Just in the last year and a half, floods in the midwest, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and fires in California have devastated American communities. Waiting 20 more years is not an option for people like Mikala Butson, a 22-year-old Californian who I met recently while on the Road to the Green New Deal tour, whose mother and brother fled from flames in the Camp fire last November. Her hometown, Magalia, was nearly erased from the map alongside Paradise. Ninety-three people died. Tens of thousands lost their homes.

Some took issue with my criticism of the timeline of O’Rourke’s plan for being too sharp or unforgiving. They pointed out that this is the most ambitious climate platform yet proposed by a presidential candidate. They are right. But this is the terrible paradox of climate policy in 2019 – even a historically ambitious plan can fall far short of what’s needed. Our measuring stick is not politics; it is physics, and the urgent demands of justice for all on the frontlines of climate disaster.

Last year, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that we have just 12 years to radically transform our economy to avoid catastrophic climate change of more than 1.5C (2.7F). Globally, they said, we need to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. In order to reach that goal globally, the US must do much more, much faster. The US can’t aim to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, as O’Rourke’s new plan proposes.

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The Guardian, 2 May 2019: We can't save the planet with half measures. We need to go all the way