No matter who wins this year’s US presidential election, current conventional wisdom is that

Donald Trump is the world’s most powerful climate denier, and of any of the dozens of candidates running for the Democratic nomination. On the face of it, both options feel grim – especially for the people at the centre of the climate emergency, who bear the brunt of our decades-long delay on climate action.

But this stunning fact is also true: which explicitly calls for a net-zero emission US economy, contains than Hillary Clinton’s plan did just four years ago. In almost every way, it’s even more progressive than

That remarkable shift didn’t happen spontaneously. This election season, the US saw its emerge, Jay Inslee, who dropped about every inch of a transition to a post-carbon world. And the Sunrise Movement, a group of young activists, hounded every major presidential candidate and helped put the climate emergency at the centre of campaign discourse in a matter of months. 

These dry documents and unceasing political pressure are the nuts and bolts of transformational change. The result is that Biden, as remarkable as it may seem, has now assumed a role as the face of that change The status quo has become a revolution.

That, we might say, is progress.

Photo of a lit lamp connected to a glass tank, an artificial sun shining in it
Photo: Kyle Bean, Mitch Payne and Gemma Fletcher.

Reluctant but revolutionary change

To be sure: I’m not saying Joe Biden is the best president a progressive could wish for. At best, he will be a reluctant vehicle for revolutionary change rather than its driving force.

Biden’s climate plan was the only one of all the Democratic nominees to receive from the influential Sunrise Movement’s election scorecard. Its founder, but in called his candidacy “disappointing” – twice. That’s because, all around him, change is happening even faster. Biden has been racing to keep up, and has brought the status quo along with him. 

What I am saying is that, although it might not seem like it on the surface, we’re not in the same place today as we were only a few years ago. We’re not even close. 

We’re doing better on climate change than we tend to think

Of course, ideological victories aren’t the point. The goal of the climate movement is on an emergency time scale. Climate activists strive to affirm life in practical, tangible ways led by scientific evidence that demands a revolution in every aspect of society. 

When put that way, it’s easy – even encouraged – for well-meaning people to shrug off incremental progress.

Besides, the steamroll of extractive capitalism – led by the fossil fuel industry – will continue to materially reduce humanity’s chances of surviving this century with global civilisation intact. Every year, we’re crossing in the climate system that will ensure a future filled with suffering for all living things. 

When put this way, it’s easy to descend even further into cynicism.

Climate activists’ tendency to simultaneously set huge, transformative goals and beat themselves up as they are achieving them is as reliable and ominous as the rising sea levels. We’re doing far better than we give ourselves credit for, and yet we’re never doing good enough.

That’s why I want to put a spotlight on the progress that we’ve made, while fully acknowledging we’re not yet where we need to be. Because it is important to be aware of the steps we are taking – and to celebrate successes when they’re achieved.

Photo of a lit lamp connected to a glass tank, green little balls floating in it
Photo: Kyle Bean, Mitch Payne and Gemma Fletcher.

How radical change happens

In November of 2018, two years after a group of youth climate activists led by Prakash was joined by just-elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to protest in favour of But this wasn’t just any other protest. It was to be held in Nancy Pelosi’s office – the third-highest ranking elected official in the United States, and a member of their own party.

It was as close to a political takeover as you can get in

The protest made the news in a way that climate change rarely does. It over the urgency of climate action. More than 50 of the protesters were arrested. Prakash’s Sunrise Movement propelled the climate movement into people’s living rooms almost overnight. Climate change was no longer just about emissions targets and degrees Celsius – it was about justice and revolution.

All of this happened in days that were still starkly different from today. calling for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” had only been out a month or so. Few people had even heard of the Green New Deal. The wildfire that burned through Paradise, California – – was still ravaging. Swedish teenager and Nobel Prize candidate Greta Thunberg hadn’t yet sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.

But the takeover worked. Over the course of the past 18 months, ideas that had previously been considered too radical to even discuss – like a universal green jobs guarantee, advocating for 100% renewable energy nationwide by 2030 and refusing to accept campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry – have become central to the Democratic Party. 

Climate is now arguably the centrepiece of progressive politics around the world, ranking number one in on a list of most important issues, with concern rising notably over the past six years in almost every country. Right now, even in the middle of a pandemic, a new survey shows that concern over climate change is at an all-time high in the US, and Globally, 71% of adults surveyed in 13 countries said that climate change is as serious a crisis as Covid-19.

Given all this, it’s no coincidence that the climate plan put forward by Democratic nominee Biden is, in many ways, much better than even the most progressive plan four years ago: it talks about a 100% clean energy economy as an “obligation”, and sets a new mandate that every new car be electric. It demands a worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies, and will use the power of US trade agreements to enforce it. It doesn’t mention a carbon tax, leapfrogging a decades-old controversy and just gets straight to regulating the carbon-based economy out of existence.

This is how radical change happens. And we’re in the messy middle of it.

Photo of a lit lamp connected to a glass tank, articial wind blowing white little balls up in the air
Photo: Kyle Bean, Mitch Payne and Gemma Fletcher.

Next to politics, technologies are advancing rapidly as well

This shift in politics is just part of the revolution that is already underway.

Wind and solar are now for most of the world. Between 2010 and 2020, prices have dropped from $300 per kWh to $50 MWh for new solar, low enough to match or even undercut the cost of new coal and natural gas plants.

The renewable energy industry has become an enormous industry within less than a decade, tripling in size since 2010, and becoming a thriving engine of low-carbon electricity at prices that were unimaginable even just a few years ago. Already, the US is on pace to produce more electricity from renewables than coal

The use of coal has gone down even more during the coronavirus lockdown. The without a single coal plant operating, and due in part to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, new coal construction has starting even before the pandemic. By there are only a few hundred coal plants still being planned or built in the entire world. Of course, the bad news is that there are coal plants still being planned or built at all. But still: at this rate, the UK – the birthplace of the industrial revolution – will be  

Simultaneously, the cost of batteries – an important component in our transition to a renewable economy –

Batteries are the missing link in an economy that can run on entirely renewable energy, because the sun and wind can’t be turned on and off on a whim. And prices have dropped far quicker than analysts have expected. The cost of lithium-ion batteries  

There will be 175 different models of electric cars available for purchase in Europe, up from less than 100 total cars of a single model sold in 2010

The battery evolution has spurred electric vehicle production too. By the end of 2020, there will be available for purchase in Europe, up from less than 100 total cars of

And instead of merely transitioning to an electric version of fossil mobility, cities around the world are re-imagining their streets all together too. people are closing streets to vehicle traffic and reclaiming urban space for pedestrians and cyclists. Flying, too, has become an ethically conflicted activity – 30% of people reported having a “bad conscience” while flying. And that was before the coronavirus.

All these developments have made the 100% clean energy goal a real possibility well before 2050, just as Biden plans to do. The Sunrise Movement, will keep pressuring him for it to happen much sooner. 

The new climate movement, focused on energy justice

Of course, solar and wind are not morally positive technologies just because they reduce our carbon footprints. The answer cannot be an doubling down on capitalism, only this time with solar panels and Teslas. As the infrastructure of the fossil fuel industry is irreversibly breaking down, we need an entirely new society to replace it.

Fortunately, an has changed the framing of renewable energy proliferation from a greenwashed, unquestionable good thing to something that must be done The climate movement, after all, has been dominated so far by white people, even though

On a rainy summer day in Washington, DC in 2018, Zero Hour, a climate advocacy organisation led by young women of colour, began with a sparsely attended march that focussed explicitly on diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-imperialism. It was  

By May of the following year, CNN had  

By October, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren had

Globally, the climate movement is also thus becoming a key force in left-leaning politics. The just-launched umbrella organisation, Progressive International, has assembled groups like the Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (Movement of People Affected by Dams) in Brazil and Aksi Ekologi dan Emansipasi Rakyat (Action for Ecology and People’s Emancipation) in Indonesia alongside broader labour, justice, and women’s rights organisations around the world.

There is where before it was more private and segregated. People are openly talking about the incredible emotional toll that climate change is having on them: disasters like the fires in Australia, California, southern Europe, the Amazon, and the Congo basin have generated from which there is no escape.

Photo of a lit lamp connected to a glass tank, white, yellow orange, red and brown stones and a thermometer in it
Photo: Kyle Bean, Mitch Payne and Gemma Fletcher.

The best news: we’re just getting started

In 2020, we have already succeeded beyond some of our loftiest goals set only a few years ago.

Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, that based on previous non-violent movements over the past 100 years, just 3.5% of the population is needed to kickstart revolutionary change in society. In 2019, the climate strikes in New Zealand were the first to reach that magical number, and ushered in sweeping new climate law as a result.

Urgenda – a Dutch advocacy organisation – won a landmark ruling sparking similar court cases around the world. As of today, forcing governments to take action on climate change via the rule of law. 

The idea of degrowth – abandoning the concept of eternal expansion on a finite planet – A found that a majority would prefer the economy to be measured by indicators of quality of life instead of GDP. We can achieve that by building an economy that’s not based on quarterly reports and profits, and instead on distributing resources to those who need them most.

One way of achieving that aim is through a circular economy – basically, recycling on steroids with radically distributed access to information, production, and consumption. we’ll be building on a foundation of life and connection, not competition and inequality.

In that kind of world, everything changes. Care work is valued as essential. Quarterly stock reports will become meaningless. Our entire concept of value will shift toward what is truly sustainable from a planetary perspective. 

We’re just at the beginning of it. But we’re getting closer every day.

Dig deeper

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