A few years ago, my family and I visited Redwood National Park in Northern California. Coast redwoods, which can grow up to 350 feet high and 22 feet wide, are the tallest trees the world. As we traversed the hiking trails, we marveled at the giant trees and the beautiful landscapes around us. It was hard to imagine, standing amid that majestic, seemingly timeless grove, that these trees are endangered – threatened by an array of impacts including logging and climate change.
In California, the value of natural spaces and wildlife is readily apparent. Many of us are blessed with pristine beaches, towering mountains, and majestic deserts just outside our front doors. As a result, the idea of protecting the environment is often second-nature. At California schools, students bring soda cans in for recycling contests. Children participate in beach cleanups, and local groups organize campaigns to encourage environmental activism.
This penchant for environmental protection is further embodied by the state’s lawmakers. When I was in the state legislature, I coauthored the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, passed in 2006, to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, the state has adopted additional measures to reduce its impact on the environment while growing its economy to be the sixth largest in the world. There is a general consensus in California that climate inaction is not an option.
In Washington, DC, though, it is evident that the Republican majority is hostile to protecting the environment and addressing carbon and methane pollution. Last year, I hosted a screening of the film Merchants of Doubt at the US Capitol to further drive the climate change conversation. The film made clear that much of the Republican opposition to climate action is staked in the party’s rejection of government action in general. This is dangerously shortsighted thinking – inaction today will result in natural catastrophes that require even greater government involvement down the road.
There is currently an unprecedented level of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing more extreme storms and droughts, frequent heatwaves, and rising sea levels. Since 2001, we have experienced 16 of the 17 hottest years ever recorded. And without action, things will get worse. Steadfast denial of anthropogenic climate change will not stop the harsh impacts of a warming climate – physics and chemistry will not bend to the ignorance of climate deniers.
In 2014, I ran for Congress knowing that California’s aggressive climate action alone would not prevent the impending climate crisis – we need the entire country, and the world, to take aggressive steps to tackle this global challenge. The Obama administration started us down that path. I am thoroughly dismayed that our current government, led by President Donald Trump and epa Administrator Scott Pruitt, has abdicated US leadership on this issue and is taking us backwards. The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement coupled with anti-regulatory actions will hurt the planet and our communities.
Democrats – and a handful of Republicans – are vigorously fighting these actions tooth and nail in Congress. In June, I introduced the Climate Solutions Act to implement aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions and promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy technologies. Every day, my colleagues are introducing similar bills and working with their local communities to convince the Trump Administration to adopt stronger environmental protections.
The United States must fully commit to taking action. It is critical that we push back on any attempts by the Trump administration to dismantle existing climate policies. But resistance to harmful policies is not enough – we must continue to push forward with new solutions. The federal government should establish a price on carbon in addition to investing in energy-efficiency products, a resilient electric grid, and renewable energy technologies. Local governments and the private sector need to take action as well. The fight against climate change will require innovative thinking and implementation of solutions in all sectors. And America must not only have a seat at the international climate table, but be a leader.
The preservation of our environment – of places like Redwood National Park – is at stake, as is the well-being of our communities. The time for action on climate was yesterday. It is time our federal government catches up before it is too late.
Congressman Ted Lieu represents the 33rd Congressional District of California in the US House of Representatives.
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