In the home stretch of the 2020 campaign, presidential candidate Joe Biden leaned hard into the issue of climate change, giving a televised speech and running climate-focused ads in swing states. His campaign bet that this issue, once considered politically risky, would now be a winner.
That bet paid off. Once he takes office, though, President-elect Biden must contend with a House less dominated by his fellow Democrats, a Senate almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and a conservative Supreme Court. Working across the aisle will be essential.
Biden understands that people of any party can and do care about climate change. In a speech this fall, he said, "Hurricanes don’t swerve to avoid red states or blue states. Wildfires don’t skip towns that voted a certain way. The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose. It’s not a partisan phenomenon, and our response should be the same."
Some Republicans are expressing similar opinions. In October, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, participated in a climate policy webinar with her climate-hawk colleague, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island. She noted that bipartisanship gives a policy longevity and said, "Let's work in a way that is going to get the support that you need from both Republicans and Democrats."
Some members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation have signaled their readiness to confront the problem.
"Climate change is a real, immediate and growing threat to national security, public health and our economy. The longer we fail to act, the more costly climate change will be," declared Sen. Tammy Baldwin in August. "Taking bold action to confront climate change is an urgent economic necessity for us in Wisconsin, and building a clean economy will make our state stronger."
Indeed, public demand for action is rising. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reports that the number of Americans who are "alarmed" about climate change has more than doubled in recent years, from 11% in 2015 to 26% in 2020.
All told, 54% of Americans are either "alarmed" or "concerned" about climate change. In Dane County, two-thirds of all residents believe the president and Congress should do more to address global warming.
Climate change already is hurting Americans. More than 5 million acres burned across western states this year, displacing thousands of people. A record-breaking hurricane season battered the southeast, with storm after storm making landfall even before communities could recover from the previous one.
We need to address the root cause of these extreme events: excessive greenhouse gas emissions. One fast-acting, effective remedy has already been proposed. Congress could charge a fee on all oil, gas and coal used in the United States based on the volume of greenhouse gases they produce.
Setting a price on this pollution would steer our country toward cleaner options, slashing harmful emissions across many areas of our economy at once. Passing revenue from the fee along to the American public would put extra money in people’s pockets while we transition to a clean-energy economy.
Legislation to make this possible, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763), already awaits approval in the House with more than 80 members as cosponsors. Locally, organizations as diverse as the Wisconsin Farmers Union, NAACP Dane County, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, and the Dane County Board have publicly endorsed the bill or its concept.
With an incoming president clearly committed to addressing climate change and millions of Americans eager for solutions, the next Congress should seize the opportunity to make this legislation the law of the land.
Tom Sinclair is a volunteer with the Madison chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is its executive director.
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