Climate Hope

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Tompkins Weekly, 1- 3-24

By Miranda Phillips

Like many of us, I’ve struggled with climate despair. This came to a head one winter when, hearing about the death toll of an intense Christmas ice storm, I said to my husband, “How many more people have to die senselessly before we do something.”  My husband replied, “I wish you wouldn’t get so angry about it.” I asked, “You wish I wouldn’t get so angry, or that I wouldn’t tell you about it?” My husband (a sweet, thoughtful guy) backpedaled: “You’re right to be angry.  I just remember a time when you were more hopeful, and it makes me sad.”  What to do with that?

Over the next few weeks I started exploring my options. I had heard from several people, including climate scientist James Hansen, that they respected a certain volunteer organization, Citizens’ Climate Lobby.The “lobby” part made me nervous; I wanted no part in politics.  But their values appealed: nonpartisan (across the political spectrum); focused on solutions; respectful of everyone regardless of background; and optimistic (not head in the sand, but allowing for the possibility that if we do the hard work, we can make things better). I also liked their policy aims: robust bipartisan climate solutions, which lower emissions at the pace and scale needed, without hurting low- or middle- income Americans. They didn’t yet have a chapter in Ithaca, so I started one. This was in 2014.

Since then, our chapter and hundreds like ours across the country have helped to pass great climate laws meeting the above policy aims:

We’d love your help passing more:

  1. In New York State, there are several excellent current climate bills. If these appeal, please tell your NYS legislators:
  2. Nationally, we focus on four key things: carbon pricing, building efficiency and electrification, healthy forests, and reforming permitting. That last one might be new to you. The rest of this article explains why it’s crucial, and how you can easily help.

Miranda Philips. Photo provided.

Speeding the Shift to Clean Energy – Why and How?

In October, Representative Molinaro wrote of horrendous flooding in parts of New York; he called urgently for federal funding to help NYers adapt. My CCL chapter very much agrees. We’re also asking him to take another key step: lowering carbon emissions enough to stave off worse weather ahead.

Hearteningly, there’s been landmark recent progress on this front:  In 2021-2022, two significant climate bills passed – the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. These incentivize clean energy and have the potential to take us 80% of the way towards U.S. 2030 climate goals.

But upgrading our electrical grid is also key.  For instance, one Tompkins County household with around 40 acres of land hoped to lease some of it to commercial solar developers. But they were turned away because the grid didn’t have the capacity for more electricity in their area.

This wait for grid connection isn’t just local.  According to the Washington Post’s article This little-known bottleneck is blocking clean energy for millions, nationally, “at the end of 2021, there were 8,100 projects waiting to get connected. Together, they represent more than the combined power capacity of all U.S. electricity plants.” (!)

The climate impact of this bottleneck is huge.  According to the Princeton Repeat Project and four other independent modeling groups, if we don’t build clean energy infrastructure faster, especially transmission lines, we’ll only achieve 20% of the promised carbon-pollution reduction from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

To build clean energy infrastructure faster, Congress must streamline how it grants permits.  There are three key parts to this permitting reform:

1. Siting/building clean energy projects

Federal agencies are currently very slow to assess the environmental impact for proposed energy projects.  Environmental review is key, but needs to happen faster.  Building needs to happen faster, too.  Fortunately, Congress made first steps on these fronts in their debt ceiling bill (June, 2023).

2. Transmitting clean energy across country

To reach 2050 climate goals, the U.S. needs to build and connect new transmission lines three times faster.The BIG WIRES Act is a good first step.

3. Involving local communities

Permitting should solicit early local community input on clean energy projects – to protect the health and safety of local communities, and to more quickly accept good projects and reject harmful ones.

Unfortunately, legislators have many issues on their plates, so most aren’t prioritizing permitting reform.  I hope Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, and Representative Molinaro will.

To learn more, and urge our legislators to support permitting reform, visit

They say action is the antidote to despair. It certainly has been for me – action in line with my values, in good company, and with progress to show for it.

Miranda Phillips co-leads the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. She is a teacher, and lives in Ithaca’s Fall Creek neighborhood with her husband and two teens.

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