After a dayslong, unprecedented, record-setting heat wave that cost at least 78 lives in our state, fried streetcar cables in Portland and buckled the pavement on Interstate 5, it’s clearer than ever: Climate change isn’t some pending existential threat. It’s a crisis, and it’s here. In fact, a recent study by a team of international scientists just found that the deadly heat wave we saw could not have happened without climate change driven by humans. We’re seeing more and more once-in-a-generation extreme weather events — severe droughts, raging wildfires and dangerous temperatures — all of which seem to be hitting our state more than once in a generation.
While there is a lot of talk about personal choices we can all make in fighting climate change, don’t let quibbling about how long you leave the lights on distract you. We should all take personal responsibility to make the planet a better place now and for our kids, but the most impactful things we’ve got to do are across our economy, as a country.
The forthcoming infrastructure proposals currently being negotiated in Congress are our best chance in decades at tackling the climate crisis in a meaningful, systemic way. We need to make a major investment in climate action and, specifically, we need to focus on reducing carbon emissions now — before last month’s heat wave becomes a typical Seattle summer.
And the American people agree.
For example, we can achieve a 100% carbon-free U.S. power sector by 2035 by setting a national Clean Energy Standard that would make power plants move toward zero emissions — Washington state is already on track to be carbon-neutral by 2030. Nearly two-thirds of Americans support government action to ensure we reach that goal, according to a survey by Data for Progress, a progressive think tank.
On top of national standards, there’s broad support for clean energy tax credits and incentives that would create jobs and help spur the deployment and use of renewable energies for businesses, investors and consumers. Pairing these tax credits with strong labor standards will also help ensure that the clean energy jobs we create pay well and strengthen the middle class.
Direct federal funding and programs also will help us bring down carbon emissions in a big way — like my bill to set us on the path to electrify our nation’s more than 100,000 diesel school buses, efforts to modernize our national electric grid and creating a national charging network to invest in electric-vehicle infrastructure.
Central to all of these efforts must be a commitment to a whole-of-government approach to develop programs and policies that address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic and climate impacts on communities that have too often been left behind — like Washington state’s tribes and communities of color. That also means making sure that our clean-energy investments create good jobs, with the chance to join a union and collectively bargain, strong labor and safety standards, and include investments in workforce training programs.
Action on these issues, and specifically the action President Joe Biden has proposed, enjoy broad, bipartisan support among Americans — and Congress should act without delay.
As always, I would welcome Republicans in Congress joining us in the work of tackling this crisis — and I’m hopeful that significant steps can be taken in a bipartisan way through the infrastructure package the two parties are currently negotiating.
But I also want to be very clear: Whether through the reconciliation process, a bipartisan infrastructure package, or both, we need to meet this moment with the urgency it demands. We have to make investments and enact policies that help us “electrify everything” as quickly as possible, prioritize communities that are most impacted and cut our carbon emissions.
We have the knowledge, technology and ingenuity to get there.
We have the support of American workers, students, families and communities that are living the effects of climate change now and looking to the future with increasing worry.
And as a voice for our state in the other Washington, I’m focused on making sure we’ve got the votes.
Congress must send President Biden a landmark investment in climate action that will protect our planet for current and future generations — nothing less will cut it.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.