Congress should put a price on carbon
Climate change is costing us, literally.
In 2020 alone, weather and climate disasters fueled by global warming cost the nation $94 billion in damages. This past year has been no different. In fact, climate-related disasters are only becoming more frequent and more severe.
We bore witness to record-shattering heat waves in the Pacific Northwest that melted infrastructure. Flood-inducing rainfall has taken lives and property in the Northeast. In Texas, this year’s severe freezing winter storms created a power crisis that left at least 210 people dead.
A little over three years ago, my own district on the Central Coast of California experienced twin climate disasters that worked in tandem to wreak havoc.
In December 2017, the Thomas Fire tore through Santa Barbara and Ventura counties for weeks. We experienced power outages, families were asked to evacuate their homes, and air pollution forced schools and businesses to shut down. At the time, it was the largest wildfire California had ever seen.
Just as families were returning to their homes and a sense of normalcy, disaster struck again. Early in the morning on Jan. 9, 2018 an unusually intense storm drenched the very same land that was scorched by the Thomas Fire. The burned land, which had already undergone years of drought, could not absorb the rain and led to a devastating debris flow.
This debris flow killed 23 members of my community. We lost hundreds of homes in the wreckage, some ripped from their foundations by boulders the size of cars. When I went to Montecito to survey the damage, I saw streets that looked like muddy rivers. Moreover, this event impacted everyday life for many businesses and employees for weeks. The climate crisis is unrelenting and the toll it takes is unimaginable.
There is also an economic cost to the climate crisis, as evidenced by the millions of dollars in damages caused by the debris flow in Montecito and the billions our country spends to recover from natural disasters caused by a warming climate.
In Montecito, power lines went down, and water mains were damaged. Gas service was shutoff, and we had no landline, internet, or cable service.
Regional transporttion was also severely impacted. Amtrak service and a main highway closed, preventing over 20,000 workers from commuting to their jobs, stopped mail and goods from being delivered, and kept tourists from visiting.
The climate crisis has already cost us lives, homes, and billions of dollars – we need to heed the warning signs.
As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe recently told the Washington Post, “these extremes are something we knew were coming. The suffering that is here and now is because we have not heeded the warnings sufficiently.”
The warnings go all the way back to 1988, when then-NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen testified before Congress that ''we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming.''
The latest IPCC climate science assessment confirms that the events we are witnessing today are only a mild preview of the decades ahead, unless the world takes decisive action to drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.
The message is clear: time is up to address climate change. Fortunately, the time is ripe for Congress to act using a tool known as budget reconciliation.
I am proud to support the bipartisan H.R. 2307, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which is a market-based approach to addressing climate change. This legislation would put a price on carbon, placing a fee on C02 emissions and then returning 100 percent of the net revenue to the American people in the form of a rebate.
There is no reason for everyday Americans to be shouldering the costs of climate change. If we make it more expensive for corporations to emit C02, they will have a financial incentive to use less fossil fuel and invest in cleaner energy sources.
This small but mighty step would help reduce our carbon pollution by up to 45 percent by 2030 and help my home state of California achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2045.
Congress is deliberating on the reconciliation proposal right now, which gives us an opportunity to take meaningful action to calm our climate. Reconciliation presents an opportunity to enact a carbon fee and dividend, which can help us raise revenue, reduce carbon emissions, and curb climate change. We need to put a price on carbon pollution if we are serious about tackling the climate crisis.
Congress needs to go big now, or we will all suffer unimaginable climate consequences. I encourage my congressional colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to join me and support putting a price on carbon in a bipartisan way.
Salud Carbajal represents California’s 24th District