Congress, we have a problem — and it’s time for you to solve it (Opinion)

Deirdre Henderson and Mark Reynolds

When it comes to climate change, sometimes it feels like we can’t see the forest for the trees — the smoldering, wildfire-ravaged trees.

Public attention has been consumed this summer by shocking climate impacts. Acrid wildfire smoke from unprecedented wildfires in Canada has blighted skylines and polluted the air in nearly every region of the United States. Heat waves have put nearly half of Americans under heat watches as July temperatures soared globally to what scientists calculate is the hottest range in 120,000 years. The waters off of Florida’s coast are ideal hot tub temperatures, killing coral and sea life. And most recently, wildfire on the Hawaiian island of Maui has devastated communities, causing an unprecedented death toll. As UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, stated, “The era of global boiling has arrived.”

We have felt the impacts of climate change here in California too. We’ve seen floods in Southern California from the first hurricane in over 80 years, and wildfires in the north. We’ve been lucky in the North Tahoe area that last winter’s massive snow and this summer’s recent rains have delayed the onset of the wildfire season. But the Truckee Donner PUD has warned that wildfire season will soon be upon us, and we should be prepared for possible public service power outages and for evacuation, should that become necessary.

Despite all of this, too many of our elected officials are still missing the big picture. Too many are still asleep at the wheel on this issue, or worse, actively inflaming partisan divides and slowing critical progress on climate action. The issue is not just one plume of wildfire smoke, one flood, or one heatwave. The issue is human-caused climate change.

According to rapid attribution analysis by the World Weather Attribution Team, the July 2023 heat extremes in the southwestern U.S. and southern Europe were “virtually impossible” without global warming.

In today’s human-altered climate, a heatwave of previously unprecedented intensity is now expected to happen once every 15 years in the southwestern U.S. and once per decade in southern Europe. If global warming reaches the upper 2°C target set in the Paris Agreement, these same heatwaves will occur once every two to five years.

If ever the alarm was sounding for a rapid and far-reaching reduction of carbon emissions, it is now.

In the last few years, Congress has made some progress. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act unleashed a deluge of clean energy investment, including at least $86 billion in new investments by private companies and investors into 210 new clean energy projects across 38 states, including California, that are expected to create a minimum of 74,000 new jobs.

Through attractive incentives and credits, this legislation is also making it easier for American households to help themselves to cleaner air, energy-efficient homes and cars, and abundant renewable energy (see Our Senators Feinstein and Padilla have been strong supporters of the Inflation Reduction Act.

This is a good start, but we need to do even more. America’s greenhouse gas pollution still increased rapidly last year, and fossil fuel companies — whose products are at the root of our runaway greenhouse gas pollution — raked in billions in profit as they continued their business as usual.

One encouraging step is the recent relaunch of the Climate Solutions Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, which has an equal number of Republican and Democratic members committed to exploring bipartisan climate action. This group should focus its energy on crafting meaningful bipartisan legislation to drive down carbon pollution, such as a nationwide price on carbon emissions. Climate disasters affect red and blue states alike, and every American deserves to have their legislators fight to protect them and their loved ones.

We hope to see Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA3) find a partner from across the aisle to join this important bipartisan group and sincerely commit to crafting the climate solutions we need in the Sierra Nevada. Right after his election to Congress, Rep. Kiley said he would pursue bipartisan action in the interest of his constituents. The Climate Solutions Caucus is a perfect opportunity for him to make good on that commitment.

Our members of Congress are elected to office to represent their constituents. Right now, constituents like us are hurting from our already-changing climate. Congress can no longer be passive on the topic of climate change. Not when across the U.S. — and around the world — back-to-back climate extremes are causing death, destruction, and ecological and economic devastation.

Everything we care about needs a livable world. We can’t accept a future where our leaders deny, delay, and distract because the reality of climate change is inconvenient and challenging. We need our leaders to connect the dots. To grasp the scale of the threat. To see the forest through those smoldering trees.

We have the solutions to change our trajectory and thrive. So, Congress — it’s time to act.

Deirdre Henderson is the group leader of the North Tahoe chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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