Climate change and other consequences of carbon pollution will shape lives around the world for generations, sweeping across class lines and international borders. Lamentably, America’s deep partisan divide has become impassable ground for most attempts to confront this worsening crisis. A strong consensus on environmental issues and pragmatic solutions must be developed by our nation’s leaders.
Bills now before the U.S. Senate provide distinct opportunities, one modest and one sweeping, to acknowledge reality. Increasingly extreme weather patterns around the globe, rampant wildfires and ocean acidification won’t be stemmed without strong action.
As a first step, the Senate needs to stand up to President Donald Trump. The president’s spectacularly wrongheaded decision to withdraw America from the Paris climate agreement must be reversed. Senate Bill 1743 and the House-passed HR 9 would each stop this withdrawal and call for a federal plan for meeting the Paris accord’s carbon-reduction standards, which 185 nations have ratified.
That move, advocated by both of Washington’s senators, wouldn’t heal our world by itself. It would demonstrate that American leadership comprehends the gravity of the global situation and desires meaningful progress. It would also likely draw a presidential veto, but the legislation has a more urgent problem. Whether out of fealty to Trump or refusal to acknowledge climate-change realities — or both — the Republicans who control the Senate have been unwilling to allow either bill to advance.
The version that passed the House received token bipartisan support; three of its 231 “yes” votes came from Republican representatives, all elected from East Coast states. Their Senate counterparts must show similar independence and move a Paris restoration bill forward, even without evidence of a veto-proof majority, to show the world — and the Trump administration — that the Senate has a bipartisan sense of the need for international solidarity.
A smaller step toward establishing meaningful environmental consensus has drawn broader bipartisan support within and beyond Washington’s House delegation. Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat, worked with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican, on a bill for innovative solutions to ocean acidification that passed the House 395-22.
Acidification is fed by the same greenhouse-gas pollution that hastens climate change. Carbon waste alters the ocean’s chemistry, making waters more acidic. The shellfish business that employs more than 2,700 Washingtonians faces imminent danger from this. According to a 2017 University of Washington study, the $220 million Dungeness crab industry “will likely suffer” when ocean waters’ ongoing progression makes them acidic enough to kill off the tiny creatures crabs eat.
Kilmer’s bill would empower federal agencies to spend within their current budgets to start prize competitions for methods of dealing with ocean acidification. This has great potential to foster creative solutions at a cost-efficient rate a monolithic government agency’s moonshot could never match.
High-reward research prize competitions can leverage the private sector’s resources with wondrous efficiency. The nonprofit XPRIZE Foundation, which dangles research prizes to attract help solving a range of scientific challenges, said its $10 million 2004 award for private space exploration got 26 teams to produce more than $100 million worth of research.
The Senate should take note of this rate of return on investment, approve the acidification prize bill and rejoin the world in confronting the consequences of society’s advances.