By Carlos Cepeda-Diaz, Citizens’ Climate Lobby
You do not need to be heavily invested in headline news to know that the summer of 2021 has been riddled with unprecedented climate disasters in every region of the world.
Many lives have been lost to natural disasters, over 30 countries have declared a state of climate emergency, and more Americans support action on climate than ever before. This raises the question: what more could it possibly take for Congress to act on it?
One million acres of charred forest in California didn’t do it, nor the apocalyptic haze that polluted cities across the nation. The horrible stench of shellfish cooking alive on beaches was quickly forgotten. Hurricane season continues to come sooner every summer and scorching hot temperatures kill thousands across the nation, but few leaders respond. At this rate, waiting to see what will garner enough attention means accepting an unrecognizable planet for future generations.
This summer is the product of a 1.1ºC increase in temperature from pre-industrial levels. As the latest IPCC report points out, the best possible scenario is halting the Earth’s warming at 1.5ºC, which the Biden administration says it aims to do. This means that even if every country in the world began taking action on climate tomorrow, the climate disasters will continue to get worse for at least three decades. We are past the point of preventing a change to our planet — now we need to limit how devastating things will get. The good news is we have the tools to start right now; all we are missing is the political will.
Our current approach to the climate crisis is insufficient. Although we have seen limits on pollution, expansion in electric vehicles, and big promises on climate action, Biden’s approach thus far has been to embed climate policy into broad and popular legislation, such as the infrastructure bill. This is a step in the right direction, but we are missing the bold steps that are needed.
One of the few remaining chances for Democrats to pass adequate climate legislation with a strictly partisan vote is to place a price on carbon in the budget reconciliation bill. A price on carbon would reduce emissions by installing a fee that accounts for carbon’s effect on the planet, just like there are fees for littering.
A carbon tax also promotes innovation that will drive down the cost of green energy, transportation, agriculture, and architecture — breakthroughs in these areas are the prerequisites to a carbon-free world. If Democrats miss their chance with the budget reconciliation bill, Congress will need to wait for unprecedented across-the-aisle support to pass critical carbon legislation.
We are well past the point where going vegan or buying a Chevy Bolt will save the planet. Although we require bold action from governments to ease the climate crisis, that does not mean Congress is the only institution with the power to make a change.
It is critical that citizens put pressure on local, state, and national representatives for urgent climate action. There are many ways to start advocating for the planet right now. Phone calls and emails really help put pressure on representatives to act for their constituents.
You can leave a message for your representatives to support climate action (for example, a tax on carbon on the budget reconciliation bill), join a local climate advocacy organization, and make climate change a topic of conversation in your everyday life.
The only option we cannot afford is waiting around. The time to assure a livable future is running out.
Carlos Cepeda-Diaz is a 16-year-old student at Phillips Academy Andover. He works with Citizens’ Climate Lobby to spread awareness about climate change. He lives in Boca Raton.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.