Editor: After a trying year and a half, we’re enjoying a magical summer here in Northern Virginia, reveling in simple joys like school vacation, swimming pools and sunshine. Though the virus still lurks in the shadows, we’ve eagerly ripped off our masks and are embracing old friends.
Even for someone like me, who has spent much of the past five years in the grip of climate anxiety as the world seems to inch closer and closer to the edge of a cliff, it’s been possible to occasionally forget our dire predicament. An unusually cool start to the summer helped, as did the 17-year cicadas – an annoyance at times, but also a comforting reminder that the universe marches to an ancient rhythm and nature perseveres.
Around the world, though, our worst climate nightmares have been coming true decades before we expected. The brutal heat wave that struck the Pacific Northwest at the end of June was unlike anything humans have ever experienced in that part of the world and fueled massive wildfires, including one that obliterated a Canadian town.
This month, floods in Western Europe washed away whole towns, caused the earth to cave in and have left hundreds missing. In Siberia, some of the world’s coldest spots are experiencing triple-digit temperatures, causing the taiga to ignite and the permafrost to melt.
Of course, these events didn’t come out of nowhere. Persistent drought has become a fact of life in the American West, and fire season has been getting longer and more severe for years. Here on the East Coast, higher ocean temperatures have been fueling more severe hurricanes, with storms forming earlier in the season than ever before.
Even amid the sweetness of summer in Northern Virginia this year, we’ve been tasting the sour notes of climate change. Despite many pleasantly cool nights in June, we’ve had more than our share of days in the mid-90s already. And it’s not just the heat: Our phones regularly buzz with flash-flood warnings during the heavy precipitation events that are the hallmark of the changed climate in the Mid-Atlantic. We should expect more of this in years to come.
So, what do we do? For starters, we need to stop emitting the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet. That’s a tall order, and not something we can accomplish by reducing our individual carbon footprints. These emissions come from the fuels that are the backbone of our economy.
The fastest, least painful way to accomplish such a shift is by putting a price on carbon, and several bills in Congress would do just that. The one that has so far attracted the most support is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, H.R. 2307. It would put a steadily rising tax on fossil fuels and send the money back to Americans as a monthly dividend.
The carbon tax would stimulate businesses to cut their emissions, allow fair competition among different forms of energy, and boost innovation, while the monthly checks would offset higher costs for most consumers, particularly those in lower income brackets.
Economists have estimated this legislation would cut emissions by about one-third in just five years, putting us on a clear path to net-zero emissions by 2050.
I am grateful that my own member of Congress, Gerry Connolly, is one of 78 House members who have cosponsored H.R. 2307. I hope his colleagues from Northern Virginia, Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton, will soon join him in supporting this practical solution to an urgent crisis.
For those of us not in Congress, we can help build political will for carbon pricing by spreading this message through our communities. I invite you to connect with other climate advocates working on this at citizensclimatelobby.org.
Establishing a strong carbon price is not the only thing we need to do to heal a feverish planet, but it is a crucial first step. Let’s not delay any longer.
As events around the globe have so vividly shown, the climate crisis isn’t taking a vacation this summer.
Sarah Karush, Falls Church
Karush is co-leader of the Fairfax County chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.