You’re not imagining this – politicians in Washington are actually talking climate again

Nat Keohane

I've been working on climate change for a long time, but I've never seen a moment like the one we're in now.

The surge in political energy across the country and on Capitol Hill, coupled with the leaps and bounds made in low-carbon technology, gives me hope that, even with the daily reminders of the obstacles we face, we can solve this challenge.  

  • Last week, the Republican-controlled Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held its first hearing on climate change since 2012 where its leader, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, said that global warming is "directly impacting" the lives of her constituents. Other Senate Republicans are joining the debate about solutions to climate change.
  • Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York is calling for a special, bipartisan committee on climate change.
  • In the House, there have been 19 climate-related hearings since the new Congress took over in early January. There are also signs of a more constructive stance among some House Republicans, who have responded to those committee hearings by engaging on the substance and inviting serious witnesses to testify.
  • At the same time, the proposed Green New Deal has given climate issues new visibility on the Hill – and among Democratic presidential candidates. While we don't agree with everything in the Green New Deal resolution, its backers are bringing new ideas and needed ambition to the conversation.

It's clear that politicians are responding to pressure from home.

A recent poll by our partner organization, EDF Action, and other allies found an astonishing result: Climate change is cited as a top tier issue by more Democratic primary voters than any other issue in three of the five early primary states surveyed – California, New Hampshire and Iowa – and it places second in another, Nevada.

Nationally, a poll by Yale and George Mason universities indicates that the number of Americans who are "alarmed" about climate change is at an all-time high, 29 percent. This is "double that segment's size in 2013 and an 8-point increase since March 2018," the poll found. Overall, 59 percent of Americans are either alarmed or "concerned."

What's the cause? The foundation was laid over many years by the tireless work of activists and climate scientists.

But more immediately, I think it's a combination of anger at the backward policies of this White House, of recent reports on climate impacts from the U.S. government and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of the bold ambition of a new wave of young activists led by groups like the Sunrise Movement, and of vivid images of impacts like the California wildfires and violent East Coast hurricanes.

To succeed, we must find solutions that address the scale of the challenge, while being politically sustainable over the long term.

A comprehensive policy package should center on putting enforceable limits on climate pollution and requiring companies to pay when they pollute. When companies must face the true costs of their pollution, and profit more from clean energy than from fossil fuels, we will spur a race to build a prosperous low-carbon economy.

What's more, everything else we need to do to meet the climate challenge, such as increasing energy efficiency in buildings and improving fuel economy in cars, will have even greater impact – because market forces will be pushing in the same direction as climate progress instead of against it.

We also need to invest in new ways to remove climate pollution from the atmosphere, whether through farm and forest practices that absorb more carbon, or stepped-up research and development into direct air capture technologies. It's going to take all the tools we have to meet this challenge.

Our goal is federal legislation that puts America on an efficient, effective and durable path to 100-percent clean energy across the entire economy by 2050.

With President Trump in the White House and signs of climate impacts all around us, we can't afford casual optimism. But the surge in political momentum gives me new hope that we can win this fight.

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