Guest editorial: The pandemic will end, but danger of climate change remains
See if you can place this storyline: We hear of a dangerous development in the world but see it as a distant threat. Over time it appears that the threat is coming closer, but because it isn’t in our backyards, we go about our business. Then we start to see the effects directly and get scared. Our government slowly begins to react, although much too late. The economy tanks, people die and we lament not having done something sooner.
Think I am talking about the pandemic? Wrong. I am talking about the much larger threat before us: climate change.
This pandemic will end. Within a year or two we will heal and move on, until the next one hits. Pandemics are, by their nature, quick and temporary.
Climate change, however, is anything but. For over 30 years we have been told by scientists that it is coming, it may end humanity, and it is permanent. Think of climate change as a huge, slow-moving meteor headed toward the planet. When it actually hits, we will be stunned by the ubiquity and ferocity of its carnage. Take the effects of this pandemic and add to the mix food shortages, mass-displacement of whole populations and heat that makes parts of the earth uninhabitable. This is just an inkling of what we will see.
A recent article from the Harvard School of Public Health provides details on the health effects we can expect from climate change. More and worse outbreaks like COVID-19. Mosquito-borne illnesses spreading north from the equatorial regions (already happening). Ancient bacterial strains released as the Arctic permafrost melts (already happening). The article concludes that: “The separation of health and environmental policy is a dangerous delusion. Our health entirely depends on the climate and the other organisms we share the planet with.”
As depressing as this sounds, it gives us an opportunity. We can choose to learn from this pandemic and take steps now to mitigate the effects of climate change. First and foremost, we can put a price on the carbon we emit. We already pay a price both financially (damage from weather events, increased insurance prices and relocated military bases) and with our health. We need to accurately reflect these costs in our economic system. There is currently a bill before Congress, H.R. 763, called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, that places a national price on carbon, with revenues sent directly back to the people. We need to pass this bill.
Second, we can accelerate the transition to cleaner, renewable energy sources. It is becoming abundantly clear that renewables are cheaper to build and operate than almost any carbon-based energy source. Government needs to actively encourage this transition to ensure low-cost energy now and make the U.S. a “center of excellence” for clean technology in the future.
Last, we can demand that our representatives take this seriously. Lives, especially our children’s lives, are at stake. Organizations such as the Environmental Voter Project and Citizen’s Climate Lobby are working tirelessly to increase voter turnout and create bi-partisan consensus on these issues. And it is working: According to a Pew Research Study, almost 70% of Americans now want the government to do more on climate change, with the greatest increase among younger Republicans who now stand at 52% and rising.
Every step we take now is incredibly important. If we wait for this train to gather momentum, it will be virtually impossible to stop. If we had acted sooner and more dramatically on COVID-19, we could have limited the death toll to the hundreds. If we act soon on climate change, we can maintain a livable earth instead of hastening the sixth mass extinction.
Let’s not risk our future on this planet. We have a choice, and must face it now.
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