2020: The Year of No Regrets

As we head into the new year, we must embrace change and do all we can to protect and sustain the natural resources we need to survive and the special places we call home. Our lives depend on it.
The Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana. According to NOAA, Louisiana's combination of rising waters and sinking land give it one of the highest rates of relative sea level rise on the planet.
Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As we head into the new year, we must embrace change and do all we can to protect and sustain the natural resources we need to survive and the special places we call home. Our lives depend on it.

There’s no doubt about it: The challenges ahead are daunting. Scientists couldn’t be clearer. The climate crisis is already hitting us hard, and it will hit us even harder unless we take bold action now. People around the world are feeling the impacts hitting closer and closer to home—from floods and hurricanes to heat waves, droughts, and wildfires.

Crews monitoring fires between the towns of Orbost and Lakes Entrance in east Gipplsland, Australia, January 2, 2020
Credit: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

As I begin my tenure as NRDC’s president and CEO today, I see 2020 as the year we jump-start a decade of breakthrough climate action to give our children the future they deserve. There can be no regrets.

We must make 2020 the year we do all that we can do to protect and sustain the natural resources we need to survive and the special places we call home. I know we can succeed if we stand together—young and old—if we embrace the solutions already available to us, if we stay hopeful and engaged, and if we do no less than demand that governments, businesses, organizations, and individuals invest in a carbon-free future as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.

When I grew up, smokestacks and tailpipes spewed black soot, trash was burned in open dumps, and Boston Harbor was contaminated with sewage. Now black smoke is the anomaly, not the norm. A shift away from disposables and plastics is taking root. And Boston is a world-class city that celebrates the cleanup of its harbor as its economic engine.

Man jumping into Boston Harbor
Credit: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Cities and rural communities across America have demonstrated time and again that you don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment. The United States is the world’s strongest economy because it was built on a foundation of strong environmental laws and regulations. Over the past five decades, we’ve made incredible strides in cleaning up our air, water, and land while our per capita GDP more than tripled. It’s not rocket science: When people are safe and healthy, the economy thrives.

But so much of that progress is under threat, and there is still so much to be done. That’s why I’m excited to be taking the helm of NRDC. When I was deciding how to make 2020 my year of no regrets, it was an easy call. There is simply no group better equipped than NRDC to lead the way toward a better future because it’s been doing it for the past 50 years.

While the Trump administration tries to move us backwards, NRDC says “not so fast.” It’s sued the administration more than 100 times since Trump took office, and so far it has had a more than 90 percent success rate. In my book, that shows just why NRDC is the best. NRDC knows how to get hard things done.

People said we couldn’t save the ozone layer because we needed CFCs; NRDC proved that wasn’t true. People said we had to live with lead in our air and water because it was a critical ingredient in gasoline. NRDC proved that wasn’t true. People said you can’t make a more energy-efficient vending machine…or TV…or refrigerator…or cable box…or lightbulb. NRDC proved that wasn’t true.

When people say we can’t stop climate change—that it’s too expensive, that the challenge is too big, and that we can’t live without fossil fuels—NRDC proves them wrong. We are making the shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels to clean, safe, efficient renewable energy.

This is what defines us as Americans. When things get tough, we roll up our sleeves, we get to work, and we innovate.

During my lifetime, I have seen revolutions in communications, retail, journalism, entertainment, medicine, and more. Instead of typewriters, we have the internet. Instead of rotary phones, we have smartphones. Kids, have you ever heard of a smoking section? Look it up. So why should our energy system be any different?

Nothing stays the same. So let’s not be afraid of change; let’s be bold. Let’s embrace it and shape it to benefit all of us. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels will result in startling reductions in air, water, and land pollution.

Much of the technology needed to slow down climate change is already here—and getting cheaper and more widespread. Guess which three states lead the country in producing wind power? Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma. Why? Because of the economic opportunity it provides.

Wind turbines in the Texas Hill Country
Credit: Jason Jacobs via Flickr

The cost of solar and wind power dropped 26 percent last year alone, and grid experts have identified no-cost ways to make U.S. electricity generation 79 percent renewable in the near future. Automobiles produce 70 percent more horsepower today than in 1975 using about half as much gasoline. Over the same period, safety has improved dramatically. Believe the hype: 100 percent clean energy is within reach if we keep investing in innovation. 

During my tenure as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, we put the nation on the path toward a healthier future. We issued the Clean Power Plan to cut pollution from power plants and lock in renewable energy transitions. We made a deal with automakers to keep moving forward on fuel economy. We advanced the U.S. environmental diplomacy that helped produce the landmark Paris climate agreement

In 2020, NRDC will continue to lead the charge against this administration’s effort to roll back this progress and to undermine critical environmental and natural resource protections this country has long enjoyed and many of us considered untouchable. And if history is any indication, we will prevail.

So, as I begin my first day on the job, I am inspired, energized, and determined; 2020 is our year of no regrets. We will leave it all on the field and advance clean energy in communities, cities, and states across the country—and around our world. We will tackle the climate crisis and build a better tomorrow. It can be done and it must be done—now.

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