For the past four years, I served on a diverse committee that oversaw production of the U.S. National Climate Assessment, which garnered banner headlines across the country last month with its dire portrayal of climate change impacts, present and future. 

Earlier on the day President Obama released the report, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell issued a preemptive dismissal: “he’ll get loud cheers from liberal elites — from the kind of people who leave a giant carbon footprint and then lecture everybody else about low-flow toilets.”

Sharing stories

Over the past three years, I was also executive producer of a nine-part Showtime TV series on climate change, "Years of Living Dangerously," which crisscrossed the country telling the stories of Americans who did not look anything like the liberal elites of McConnell’s imagination.  

"The good news is that individuals need not be passive victims, but rather can – and must – author a turnaround in our dangerous trajectory."

We met Monte Best, a rancher struggling to survive a devastating drought in Texas.  We met Nelly Montez, who lost her job at a Cargill meat-packing plant that shut down because of the same drought.   We met Pat Dresch, whose daughter was ripped from her arms and died in super storm Sandy.  We met Katherine Hayhoe, a scientist who studies climate change at Texas Tech. We met Apalachicola, Florida oysterman Ken Folsom and his son Joe as they pulled up empty rakes in a bay that had once produced 10 percent of oysters in America. The impacts of climate change are now personal, and definitive science tells us that if we don’t act urgently we are going to see many more examples of lives disrupted and lost. 

Scalable solutions

The good news is that individuals need not be passive victims, but rather can – and must – author a turnaround in our dangerous trajectory. This surely seems farfetched to many pragmatic Americans for whom the problem seems too big. That belief, that sense of futility, is our biggest enemy. Our TV series covered young activist Anna Jayne Joyner as she sought to recruit her father and fellow evangelicals to see action on climate change as an obligation of stewardship, not an invasion of the province of religion.  We covered citizen activists in Whatcom County, Washington, who elected a slate of county councilors opposed to a new coal export depot.  We covered Kansas rancher Pete Ferrell who installed wind power on his ranch to join the lucrative renewable energy revolution and produce zero-emissions power.

Taking action is simple. First, tell your elected officials at their office or next town hall meeting that you demand wise leadership and timely policy action to both reduce the impacts of mounting climate change and to exploit the wealth-creation opportunity for our country in leading the transition to a low-carbon future. Tell them the story of impacts you are seeing and be clear that you will not tolerate the kind of irresponsible evasions and political name-calling that McConnell exhibited in dismissing the NCA before it was even released.  Try not to be too cerebral and dispassionate. It is time to bring emotion and urgency into the appeal. Do not take no for an answer.  Second, talk to your friends and loved ones about the NCA and watch "Years of Living Dangerously" with them, and encourage them to reach out to their elected officials just like you did.

It is no exaggeration to say our future is at stake. You are much more powerful than you may think – act now.