On the eve of my daughter’s 25th birthday, we sat down on the couch together to watch President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. She was eager to hear from our President. 

To be honest, I long ago gave up on the notion that the country would accomplish the grand gestures on the to-do list our president proclaimed to the applause of Democrats: Jobs, health care, prescription drugs, defeating Russia, rebuilding bridges and roads, supporting families … standing ovations abounded. 

Where is our environment in this list? Where are the words about rescuing our natural world, which we are destroying bit by bit so that our children have no hope? I watched the tears pour from my daughter’s eyes as the President ended his speech to a roar of approval. I watched hope and optimism and expectation of what could be drain from my daughter’s soul. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she expressed shock at the sheer lack of priority around the one issue that could doom us all.

On Monday, the day before the State of the Union, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group convened by the United Nations, reported that the dangers of climate change are happening so quickly they could “soon overwhelm the ability of both nature and humanity to adapt unless greenhouse gas emissions are quickly reduced.” This study was undertaken by 270 researchers from 67 countries and the dire conclusion is clear: “People and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.”

What do we as a country have to say in response? As the State of the Union continued for more than an hour, my daughter sat in anticipation of the environmental goals that would be followed as outlined by November’s UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), whose goals fell short of achieving the pledges needed to reduce emissions to levels the Paris Agreement outlined in 2015. Still, the framework established at COP26 was hope enough that if countries followed through on the commitments they made to phase down coal and fossil fuel, reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030, and promote corporate commitments to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, we could make enough progress to keep the planet from experiencing staggering sea level rise, record-breaking droughts and floods, and widespread species loss. 

Instead, we heard the same few sentences sprinkled into the address year after year about investing strongly in electric cars, wind, and solar energy. Do we as a nation still fail to understand the emergency in front of us? How if we do not make the commitment to protect our natural world ASAP (read: yesterday), climate disasters will befall every one of us. I fear that after last week’s State of the Union, even the Democrats have stopped pretending that solving the climate crisis is a national priority. 

Two years ago, the world banded together to attack COVID head on with a combination of determination, cooperation between nations and big business, government funding, looking to science for answers, and personal sacrifice. This is the blueprint we will need to follow urgently to protect our world and save us all from the catastrophe that lies ahead if we do not act boldly. 

Melanie Weiss is a resident of Oak Park. 

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