The climate change emergency the United States and the world faces requires a generously funded initiative, created and managed by the civic sector, to transition to a near zero carbon economy within a generation. This effort should be led by the most prominent political, civic and business and labor leaders, including soon to be ex-President Obama.

Global temperature increases, glacial and sea ice melting and the prevalence of extreme weather have all accelerated alarmingly in the past two years, particularly in the Arctic. Despite the investment of many billions of dollars in clean energy and in other climate mitigation efforts, the world’s carbon emissions have not yet appreciably decreased; certainly not at the 5 to 10% annual rate necessary to remain within the planetary carbon budget. (And even if the world can remain within the carbon budget, it is increasingly likely that the impacts of global warming would still be catastrophic.)

The science is unambiguous. The world has but one generation at most to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 80%.

These grim facts, together with an incoming Administration seemingly determined to dismantle all climate related programs and agreements, results in the gravest threat ever to the habitability of the planet and to the survival of life on earth.

It is therefore essential that an assertive, comprehensive and highly visible effort be undertaken by the civic sector to counteract the actions expected to be taken by the incoming Congress and President. This effort would function as a kind of parallel government. Whenever possible, of course, this initiative would work with the Congress and Administration to advance climate action.

A strategy to achieve this goal would consist of three interrelated components:

  • Hands on direction by a bipartisan slate of prominent political, civic, business and labor, and philanthropic leaders, ideally including President Obama and Mitt Romney as active co-chairs.
  • Financial no strings support of many billions of dollars annually to be raised primarily through donations by philanthropists. Foundations, corporations and the public would also be asked to donate.
  • The creation of a superbly qualified and very well staffed organization dedicated to managing this effort.

This campaign could be called the One Generation Climate Challenge. It would be designed to mobilize the passion and talents of tens of millions of Americans who, while now increasingly frightened and demoralized, are looking for signs that climate change will be vigorously addressed by our country over the next four years.

Suggestions for some of the key initiatives that could be undertaken by the One Generation Climate Challenge follow:

  • Ensure that every critical climate program that is cut by the Federal government is continued with civic support. This would include hiring scientists and other staff who are laid off or who have chosen to leave because of intolerable working conditions, as well as the funding of the dozens of climate initiatives started by President Obama.
  • Initiate a comprehensive campaign to provide field tested information to the public. A Yale /George Mason University survey and study in October 2014 showed that some 175 million Americans or 69% of the population are seeking more information on climate change.
  • Initiate a climate conversations program to create thousands of locally convened ongoing conversations about the nature and threat of climate change and the actions necessary to address the threat.
  • Fund a citizen’s climate corps so that thousands would have the opportunity to serve their fellow citizens in understanding, fighting and adapting to climate change.
  • Create several new climate universities devoted solely to teaching, research and service focused on all aspects of climate change. These universities could be established through a competitive process and would become islands of hope to younger generations.
  • Reach out to fossil fuel companies, utilities and other large producers and emitters of carbon. These companies would be asked to change their business models to minimize carbon emissions or become subject to very well financed boycotts, lawsuits, shareholder action, state and local legislation and international approbation.
  • Develop a national climate best practices resource center. This center would supply information and sample legislation to local and state governments, cities and towns, the agricultural community, housing and transport sectors and all others on the best ways to reduce carbon emissions while maintaining quality of life and economic competitiveness.
  • Create a legal offense fund to support the filing of lawsuits challenging actions that are inconsistent with meeting climate goals. The publicity from these lawsuits alone would advance the climate agenda.
  • Design climate contests with lucrative prizes to encourage the best new ideas for reducing or capturing carbon emissions. These contests would support efforts to better design our cities and towns, as well as our food, transport, distribution, manufacturing and energy systems.
  • Support citizen action that fights climate change by helping to finance rallies, demonstrations, advocacy group overhead and other activities that are lawful expressions of citizen action.
  • Engage with other nations, NGO’s, the UN and the private sector to ensure that international climate change actions are maintained, if not accelerated in the coming years.
  • A particular effort should be made to support the creation of similar initiatives and entities in other countries where such efforts are absent. Ultimately a network of One Generation Climate Challenge entities throughout the world can act as a parallel force to the world’s national governments.