After receiving a science-policy award Thursday from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz took a question from an audience member, who asked what an individual should do on a personal level, in day-to-day life, to address climate change.
Moniz paused, said “Well, it’s always adding up the activities of individuals,” and then focused on a singular response:
“It’s exactly what Greta in Sweden and the young people are saying: we’re fed up with inaction, and we need to hold people accountable for this, because the stakes are very very high.”
Moniz evoked an opinion piece he penned with former Secretary of State John Kerry that appeared April 22 in”one of the great academic journals of our time,” USA Today. It calls for coalition building of the sort that mobilized 20 million Americans around the first Earth Day in 1970, a movement that goaded politicians of both stripes to support such initiatives as the National Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“There was political accountability,” Moniz said Thursday, “and if you go back to looking at what happened to individual politicians at that time and their success or lack of success in elections, there was political accountability. People were fed up, it was time to address these issues on health and everything else.”
He looked at the woman who had posed the question.
“My answer to you is, 49 or 50 years later, I believe the level of public concern, despite all these deniers and all of that stuff, the level of public concern recognizing that something has to be done is incommensurate with the level of political accountability. What we need to do is recreate that dynamic of 50 years ago.”
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist Moniz evoked in his response, has brought accountability to politicians in addresses to the UN, the European Union and the UK Parliament, but she urges many other individual actions as well to reduce carbon emissions, including avoiding meat and dairy and airline flights. These scientists have their top four individual actions. And there’s always these nine.
But Moniz focused on politics. Earlier in the evening, Moniz was introduced by Rush Holt, the chief executive of AAAS and the executive publisher of the Science family of journals. Holt mentioned that President Trump had taken the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. But when Moniz took the stage, he corrected him:
“We’re still in Paris. Technically we are not out until the day after the next presidential election,” Moniz said. “So we will see what happens there.”