While one summer — or even a few — do not constitute a trend, what is abundantly clear is that this summer is a preview of what our state will look like with a changing climate.

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THE drive toward a low-carbon future is gaining momentum.

China recently announced it will reduce its carbon emissions starting in 2017. This week the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy launched a drive in Washington state to enforce existing global-warming-pollution reduction targets, invest in the transition to a clean-energy economy and address the impacts of carbon. And earlier this month, the state Department of Ecology announced that it will regulate greenhouse gases as it does other pollution and enforce existing limits on carbon emissions to slow the impacts of climate change.

Whether all these efforts coalesce into an achievable, comprehensive approach will depend on how we — our community leaders, our businesses and our families — engage and weigh in to say yes to action, and shape a prosperous low-carbon future for all of Washington.

Action is imperative, but there are big questions our state must tackle: Why should Washington lead in the face of a global problem? How do we embrace responses that work for people and business?

A winning approach to reducing our carbon emissions would marry the urgent need for meaningful reductions with the particular interests of Washington’s unique economy — taking into account the input not only from those entities proposed for regulation, but also interests like the timber industry, low-income communities, farmers and utilities. If we can do that, we could transition to a low-carbon future that would actually put Washington on a path to increased prosperity.

Mike Stevens is the Washington state director for The Nature Conservancy.
Mike Stevens is the Washington state director for The Nature Conservancy.

A new report from Citibank found that, at a global scale, acting on climate change by investing in low-carbon energy would save the world $1.8 trillion through 2040, as compared to a business-as-usual scenario. In addition, not acting would cost an additional $44 trillion by 2060 from climate change’s “negative effects,” such as drought and fire. Bringing those benefits here to Washington, and avoiding those costs, is imperative if we are going to evolve our economy for the 21st century.

To accomplish this broader vision, a regulatory approach is only a part of the solution. We also must embrace economic drivers to reducing climate pollution, and prepare our communities, our businesses and our infrastructure for increased fire risk, drought and flooding.

What does this look like? In part, it must include putting a price on carbon — that is, using market forces to drive down our consumption of fossil fuels.

We must also invest in our natural resilience. Carbon pricing not only reduces greenhouse gases, it creates a revenue stream that could be invested in cost-effective ways to adapt to a changing climate. A portion of the money generated could fund projects to prevent and reduce wildfires, ensure clean water and reduce drought and flooding in communities across the state already experiencing the impacts of climate change.

What is abundantly clear is that this summer is a preview of what our state will look like with a changing climate.”

While one summer — or even a few — do not constitute a trend, what is abundantly clear is that this summer is a preview of what our state will look like with a changing climate. Whether you live in a major city like Seattle or Spokane, a suburb or a rural community, the impacts of fire, drought, polluted runoff and flooding will affect your family and your economic bottom line.

The combined benefits of enforcing a cap on greenhouse gases, pricing carbon and investing in proven natural solutions allow us to craft a way forward that could work better for our communities and our economy. It will not be easy, but we cannot afford a do-nothing approach. Here in Washington, we should chart our own path.

The Nature Conservancy will work with leaders from industries and impacted communities to constructively engage in the promise and challenge of shaping clean-air policies, carbon pricing and investments for Washington’s future. This kind of collaboration is what has made Washington a great place to live and work and will sustain us into the future.