The president’s recent decision to pull out of the Paris agreement, the international climate agreement by which each nation voluntarily committs to addressing climate change in their own country, is an intentional choice to bury his head in the sand. We can’t ignore reality, and we don’t have the luxury of just sitting this one out.
From wildfires in California to hurricanes like Harvey, Americans are already seeing and facing the costly impacts of a changing climate. This has been shown again and again by the surge in costly extreme weather events across the country. Those costs are rising, projected to reach upwards of $500 billion annually in the U.S. by the end of the century.
The risks to our health, economic prosperity, national security, and to all future generations necessitates that we engage. Americans want to be able to spend time outside without increasing risk of heat stroke, or take out a mortgage on a house without having to worry that it will be underwater before the end of the mortgage. If we want to keep living the way we do now, we must act to preserve a livable climate.
The science tells us that we must attain net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 report found that the threat of climate change is more severe than previously thought. According to that report, even at 1.5C degrees of temperature rise (which we are expected to hit by 2030), climate change would result more people exposed to water scarcity, extreme heat, and displacement from sea-level rise and severe weather events. It is a call to action we must act upon with seriousness and speed.
It is vital that Congress engage both the public and private sectors to do everything we can to reduce carbon pollution. The New Democrat Coalition is the largest caucus of Democrats in the House with 104 Members, and New Dems are working to build support - from both parties whenever possible – for bills that will restore American leadership on climate.
As co-chair of the New Democrat Coalition’s Climate Change Task Force, I helped lead the effort to create policy principles and legislation to combat climate change. Our goal is to enact economy-wide, market-oriented solutions and pro-climate incentives for businesses to make the shift we need to stop the climate crisis. We support policies to push markets in the right direction and help spur the clean energy transition. We also want to increase research and accelerate adoption of technologies that will help us address climate change.
A key component of this package is that there are enormous opportunities here for this country to create jobs in a clean energy economy. While we are putting forward some nuts and bolts of climate policies that are ready to go now, we are also working on long-term climate policies that comprehensively address the big picture. For example, we have good decarbonization and clean energy technologies in the United States, but they need to be more widely adopted. The federal government has the ability lead when it comes to research and development to help drive this shift in the private sector.
We also need to send strong price signals, clear emission standards, and reduction targets so that we are cultivating the economic incentives that move us in the right direction. As part of that conversation, just like we tax cigarettes for the harm they produce, we must put a price on carbon to ensure that our carbon polluters pay for the costs they’ve impose on society for their pollution. It’s important that we really push to make these shifts as quickly as we can, because many American communities are already getting hurt badly by climate change.
The Coalition has endorsed several bills to make this shift to combat climate change, from setting energy standards to advancing new technologies to my bill the National Ocean and Coastal Security Improvements Act. This bipartisan bill would support coastal communities’ ability to prepare for and respond to a variety of coastal threats, including extreme weather events, climate hazards and changing ocean conditions by improving coastal infrastructure and supporting coastal research, resiliency, conservation and restoration work. Our states and localities are literally and figuratively underwater in their ability to become climate-resilient. This bill would help address these unmet, imminent needs and ensure we have viable coastal economies for future generations.
For years Democrats were in the minority and could only talk about acting on climate while working quietly on policy solutions to help. Now we are acting. The Democratic-led House of Representatives has put the spotlight on climate, and the New Democrat Coalition’s Climate Change Task Force is here to show we have solutions that can help.
Beyer is New Democrat Coalition Climate Change Task Force co-chair and Safe Caucus Climate co-founder.