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More and more often, community and faith leaders have begun referring to climate change as “the existential threat of our time” — language the scientific community has used for decades. What does being “the existential threat” mean?

It means that if we don’t take immediate, bold action to address the climate crisis, we stand to lose everything we care about. It means vast swathes of South County and the East Bay wiped away, our economy in shambles, and countless lives lost — maybe yours, maybe mine — from drought, famine, and natural disasters.

There is no “maybe” about these consequences, or hyperbole in describing them. Report after report from NASA, the United Nations, and leading scientific institutions have made clear that, without sweeping action, human civilization as we know it is at risk. Yet politicians in both parties continue to use talking points supplied by the oil and gas industry to insist we respond in moderation.

Those politicians are wrong. Their fossil fuel backers are lying. And their selfish profiteering is threatening all of us.

We need climate action whose scale reflects the scope of this existential crisis. We need a Green New Deal: a bold commitment to recreate our energy system and, just like FDR’s New Deal 80 years ago, to transform our economy for the better. Because — despite the false insistence by President Trump and others that we must choose between the climate and jobs — the truth is that the investments we need to tackle climate change also have the power to create millions of middle-class jobs and lift up working families and communities that have long been shut out of economic opportunity.

This Green New Deal policy framework has entered the conversation in Congress, thanks to very smart organizing by activist groups and Congressional advocates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But given the current administration in DC, and the limited time we have to act, we can’t rely on immediate solutions coming out of Washington. States like ours must step up and help lead the way. Rhode Island is the birthplace of the industrial revolution and home to the first offshore wind farm in the Western Hemisphere. There is so much we can do to implement our own Green New Deal, right here in Rhode Island.

We can make our state’s emissions reduction targets binding and align them with the timeline demanded by climate science. We can invest in energy retrofits and rooftop solar for all public and private housing units and schools — and save ourselves a boatload of money. We can transform transportation by prioritizing public transit, expanding Electric Vehicle (EV) rebates, and developing EV charger infrastructure. And we can strengthen incentives, mandates, and financing mechanisms that are already in place to build a new energy system, one that is not so dangerously dependent on imported gas and oil. An energy system based on locally-produced solar, wind, and tidal energy is one that provides much more security against dangerous crises like Newport’s recent gas outage, while keeping our energy dollars working right here in Rhode Island, rather than sending billions of dollars off to fossil fuel companies in Pennsylvania and Texas and Saudi Arabia.

All of this is possible. The obstacles are not technical, they are political, and we have a choice to make. Do we let fossil fuel billionaires and the politicians they’ve bought threaten our collective future? Or do we take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a more equitable and sustainable economy? If our elected officials committed to stepping up with every legislative, administrative, and regulatory tool and resource at our state’s disposal, we could begin implementing a Green New Deal tomorrow.

But they won’t do so until we demand it. Until we raise our voices so loudly — by showing up, sitting in, knocking on doors, and running for office — that it drowns out the fossil fuel campaign contributions and lobbyists working to block progress. Taking back our future is possible. And with so much at stake, do we really have another choice?

The writer, a former Rhode Island state representative from the 4th District, is a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018.

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