Hundreds of people gather outside City Hall in Portland to demand that leaders take action on climate change on Sept. 20, 2019. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

Watching California burn is horrific. Learning we have lost almost a third of our bird population — 3 billion birds — in the last 50 years is heartbreaking. Knowing that while the U.S. releases more than its share of carbon pollution, since 2016 we have failed to lead on addressing the problem and have in fact reversed course is appalling.

Grassroots efforts have been encouraging. The Climate to Thrive group on Mount Desert Island has made great progress — recently the Islesford Lobstermen’s Co-op and MDI High School celebrated the completion of solar arrays that will provide 100 percent of the power for both facilities. Some Maine towns, including Bangor, Hampden and Orono, have responded to residents’ concerns by passing resolutions endorsing the revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend espoused by Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Orono’s effort was well described by Ron Davis in a Nov. 1 OpEd. Others, such as Belfast and Madison, have built solar farms to meet municipal energy needs.

Under the leadership of Gov. Janet Mills, Maine is to become carbon neutral by midcentury. Individually we can fly less, drive less, buy less and buy locally. We can install LED bulbs, heat pumps and solar panels. We can eat less meat.

More is required, and faster — a major makeover such as that launched by President Franklin Roosevelt to recover from the Great Depression of the 1930s. Under his New Deal, public programs put people to work planting trees and constructing bridges and schools, and, yes, the rich were taxed. The Green New Deal, a resolution introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in February, would also aim to create jobs through needed infrastructure renewal, and it would have an environmental component with clean renewable energy replacing polluting fossil fuels.

It would not, as opponents have alleged, take away planes, cars and cheeseburgers.

If enacted into law, it would provide training and economic development to communities that rely on jobs in fossil fuel industries. It would recalibrate our economic system, because an economy based on inequity and endless growth is not sustainable. And it would operate on the principle that clean air, clean water and healthy food are rights.

Opponents scoff at the Green New Deal as impossibly unrealistic, expensive and intrusive. They perhaps have not looked hard enough at the costs of runaway climate disruption — more fires, more floods, more fierce hurricanes, failing fisheries, loss of coastal land, spread of diseases and many millions of refugees fleeing starvation. Parts of the world will become uninhabitably hot. The U.S. military sees climate change as a national security threat as it would give rise to civil unrest and wars over resources (with water likely to replace oil as a precious resource).

Fossil fuel companies should be assessed damages for the harm they have caused, just as tobacco companies were held to account for promoting and selling a product they knew was killing their customers. ExxonMobil is being sued in New York, accused of fraudulently misleading its investors regarding its financial risks. Fossil fuel companies have profited enormously from a product that has done enormous damage to the environment — private profits, public harm. The Keystone Pipeline, courageously resisted by indigenous people, recently spilled about 383,000 gallons of crude oil in North Dakota.

It is not fair or just that people living on Pacific islands and the coast of Alaska, who have contributed little to climate change, should be losing the land under their feet while millionaires continue to live in a highly consumptive manner. It is not fair or just that low-income communities, often people of color, should be exposed to the pollution of fossil fuel infrastructure while people in gated communities continue their energy-gobbling lifestyles.

It is past time for action. We need to demand it. The Green New Deal offers a way forward.

Christina Diebold of Bangor is a member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Maine Audubon.