Looking Ahead to 2021
WORDS: MARIO MOLINA | HEADER IMAGE: ADAM CLARK
When I hear the whumpf sound of an unstable snowpack, my heart skips a beat. It’s an ominous reminder of the underlying instability and it immediately focuses my attention. But it does not automatically scare me off the mountain. The riots of January 6 felt like a loud whumpf. They signaled just how fragile, fractured and dangerous our society is at this moment. But the slope held and Congress certified the results of a fair and free election, ushering in an administration that for the first time is prioritizing climate solutions and social and environmental justice.
Going into 2021 we have valid reasons to be optimistic, but moving forward on climate solutions will require watchfulness, thoughtful engagement and relentless participation. The year behind us will go down in history as a turning point. Political turmoil, the resurgence of overt racism and COVID-19 coalesced into a perfect storm that left us all shaken. But some of the best things to come are already apparent—rejoining the Paris Agreement, appointing a diverse and climate-competent cabinet and planning for a 100 percent clean energy transition—while others are less flashy but will have a significant impact on our emissions trajectory and our lifestyles in the decades to come.
Buried in the chaos of the January 6 riots was the outcome of the Trump Administration’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil lease sale, which was a complete failure. (POW, along with Ambassadors Kit DesLauriers, Hilaree Nelson, Luke Nelson, Clare Gallagher, Tommy Caldwell and Zeppelin Zeerip, have actively opposed the program since it passed in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.) After 40 years of lobbying by the fossil fuel industry for access to the reserve’s estimated 10 billion barrels of oil, the sale was largely ignored by oil and gas companies. The program, which the Trump administration claimed would generate billions in revenue, barely exceeded $14 million. The failure of its opening sale is a win for the climate, the reserve’s unique ecosystems and the Gwich’in people, who have been leading the efforts to preserve the land and lifestyle they hold sacred.
While the markets are cold on fossil fuels from the Arctic, electric vehicles and battery storage are building steam. Car manufacturers like GM, Rivian and Ford are investing billions in electric vehicle product spending. Combined with the competitive advantage of renewables and technological breakthroughs in battery storage technology, we are well-positioned for a complete transformation of the transportation and electricity sectors, which, combined, account for over 60 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
Driven primarily by the pandemic, 2020 saw a 10.3 percent drop in U.S. GHG, the largest decline since World War II and 21.5 percent below 2005 levels. (Our Paris commitment is to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025.) Yet as Dan Jorgenson, Denmark’s Climate Minister, observed: “It is remarkable that closing down our societies has not led us anywhere near the level of reductions we need, so behavioral changes alone won’t do it.”
In 2021, POW will rally the Outdoor State to support the incoming Congress and administration’s efforts where they align with their promises and hold them accountable when they do not. We will seek to build genuine relationships with BIPOC communities advancing environmental justice and working to protect our democracy in future elections. We plan to double down on our state-level work and grow the Outdoor State in key geographies. We will increase support for our Alliance members and amplify their voices and efforts in advancing climate solutions and protecting public lands.
Our commitment to climate and our unshakeable belief in the work we do remains as strong as ever. We will continue to offer an approach to climate solutions that is both strategic and aspirational and can engage anyone who has appreciated a sunrise on a skin track, resolved a difficult conversation on a trail or found their best self pushing Type II fun. The work we put in together can open minds to science, inspire advocacy through the beauty of our public lands and connect people with shared lifestyles and passions.
I am deeply grateful to be on this slope with you.
— Mario Molina, Executive Director, Protect Our Winters