Climate change might be a big global conversation when it’s heads of state huddling in Hamburg fretting over the fate of the Paris Agreement. And it’s certainly a national conversation when collective activists, advocates and the anti-Trump political “resistance” mount opposition through proclamations and pledges. In fact, Philadelphia is one of those nearly 400 cities that have collaborated as “#ClimateMayors” in that effort, alongside the multi-state, bi-partisan Climate Alliance in an effort to keep the Paris Climate Treaty going with or without the Trump administration.
But is there really an urgent discussion about climate change on the street level?
Through days of “Excessive Heat Warnings” where the temperatures felt like anywhere from 100-105 degrees in Philly, you got a lot of chit-chat about “wow, how hot it is” and “staying cool,” but not any pressing local conversation about how this right here is climate change—and that it’s gonna get worse. The city did implement the usual “special measures” in response, but city officials—including Mayor Jim Kenney—went on with business as usual, pushing out daily schedules. The last thing on the City Council’s website was something about a job posting to head the Veterans Advisory Commission.
Yet, to a lot of Reality Check listeners, there wasn’t much alarm from the #ClimateMayor member city over the fact that Philly found itself melting. So, when the daily show’s host veered off into an extended rant about the fate of the planet, it resonated deeply with local WURD listeners who called in to express concern. “It really requires a serious lifestyle change on the part of everyone,” said one listener. “But I’m afraid that all the harmful things we do to the environment like commutes and driving everywhere we go is something that’s just too much a part of who we are now. There’s no going back.”
We should take full advantage of moments like these to rouse the masses into audacious neighborhood action over climate change. It can’t be a cute, makes-me-feel-better conversation over the backyard grill. Climate change response and policymaking shouldn’t just be confined to press releases, defiant speeches and politician photo-ops to appease the “tree-hugging” wing of the Democratic Party. Heat waves of this magnitude should become very crucial personal matters for all residents to chip in. Not just a conversation about how an individual keeps him or herself sufficiently cool under an AC or a fan, or limits how much they’re outside or knows where the nearest cooling station is. Instead, these should be times of intense mobilization.
Philly at the moment is merely having a quaint, cocktail conversation about climate change. What it should be doing is dramatically encouraging new, sustainable and easy-to-adopt environmentally-friendly behaviors that don’t require a bank account.
Needed foremost is a stirring citywide talk on Philly’s role as a climate alliance city and what that means—and what it’s supposed to do on an immediate and daily basis to not only reduce its carbon footprint (a sometimes vacuous, detached term at best), but to mitigate the suffering of large groups of residents (particularly vulnerable residents) who can’t wait for 100 percent renewable energy targets in 2035.
City officials might believe they’re ahead of the climate change game—but, they’re just simply checking off boxes on their progressive to-do list. The real measure of climate change response, action and reduction efforts is in whether or not individual Philadelphians are signed on to the cause in very personal, intimate ways. And it can’t just be middle-class, white Philadelphia moms or backpacking, sandal wearers trekking through Valley Green.
Those most impacted by climate change-driven violence—from air pollution to toxicity in water driving up asthma levels and other sorts of chronic diseases in low-income, mostly black kids— should be the most organized and noisy. Non-whites—blacks, Latinx and Asians in urban centers included—are sucking up 40 percent more air pollution than whites. As a University of Minnesota study points out, Philadelphia is right at the top of the list of big cities where this environmental health gap between whites and non-whites is the most prominent.
City officials, thought leaders and assorted media outlets must be much more aggressive in drilling those data points into the public consciousness. And it can’t be in the form of occasional announcements about the city setting carbon benchmarks for itself. Hard questions must be asked and acted on: What can be done in the here and now? And what are the most local, in-house, no-spend ways every resident (young, prime and old) can fight climate change down to low-hanging fruit molecule?
Heat waves like this can’t be business as usual. A good start: Concerned Philly citizens suffocating under extreme heat need to press weather forecast crews at all the local news affiliates to constantly mention climate change. It can’t be yuck-yuck with the anchors about “gosh, it’s hot out there.”
Concerned Philly citizens suffocating under extreme heat need to press weather forecast crews at all the local news affiliates to constantly mention climate change. That includes mandating weather personalities simply to say during every broadcast that, “Hey, this is climate change—and, this is the city dying from climate change. Beware, viewers.”
Station managers and producers should have already accepted that climate change is pure fact, that the fate of the planet has been determined and that they have a responsibility to report such facts as urgently as they do Trump tweets. That includes mandating weather personalities simply to say during every broadcast that, “Hey, this is climate change—and, this is the city dying from climate change. Beware, viewers.”
The public conversation should also permeate every school in Philadelphia, showing kids what, specifically they can do to alleviate climate pressures from planting a tree to engaging in advocacy at City Hall or in Harrisburg to ensure policy is implemented. And popular urban radio stations, not just WURD, need to routinely inject the climate change conversation between hit music rotations. Perhaps it’s time local DJs are schooled on climate impact, how it’s killing their audience and what sorts of tips they can give to listeners.
Philly at the moment is merely having a quaint, cocktail conversation about climate change. What it should be doing—and everyone else on the planet should follow suit—is dramatically encouraging new, sustainable and easy-to-adopt environmentally-friendly behaviors that don’t require a bank account. City officials and influencers need to find a way, fast, to connect the climate change debate with the actual frontline realities of it faced by citizens living in challenged parts of the city. Anything less is just bullshit so climate activists can hear themselves talk. Real talk, people’s lives are at stake. We need to prioritize this issue as much as we do any other issue—because any other issue is irrelevant when there’s no habitable planet to live on.
Charles D. Ellison is Executive Producer and Host of “Reality Check,” which airs Monday–Thursday, 4-7 p.m. on WURD Radio (96.1FM/900AM). Check out The Citizen’s weekly segment on his show every Tuesday at 6 p.m. Ellison is also Principal of B|E Strategy, the Washington Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune and Contributing Politics Editor to TheRoot.com. Catch him if you can @ellisonreport on TwitterHeader photo: Timothy Krause for Flickr