America is not prepared to fight invisible threats

A five-year drought in California (2011–2016) led to western pine beetle outbreaks, which contributed to the mortality of 129 million trees. As a result, the structure and function of these forests are changing rapidly. Prolonged droughts are expected to become more common as the climate continues to warm, increasing stress on lower-elevation tree species. Photo credit: Marc Meyer, U.S. Forest Service.

Opinion

That is not an accusation towards any person or administration, but simply a fact rooted in a human weakness. The threat we can’t see will always take a backseat to the one we can. But as the coronavirus shows, unseen threats can create catastrophes on par with bloody wars. As we navigate this pandemic, the parallels to another looming catastrophe, climate change, can’t be ignored. 

Much like virologists warned of a deadly pandemic for years, scientists have warned of climate change since the late 1800s. As the years have gone on, research has increasingly focused on the effect of fossil fuels on our planet’s climate. Countries banded together to form the Paris Climate Accords and make plans for the planet’s future. Unfortunately, warnings from scientists have only become more dire. The coronavirus is a harsh reminder: if we don’t prepare for problems ahead of time, the results will be catastrophic.

It’s easy to push an invisible problem out of mind. As the country deals with an economy devastated by COVID, and Nevadans struggle with a high unemployment rate, the looming threat of climate change may seem far from the daily priorities of the majority.

The same could have been said of a virus before the pandemic. There will never be a perfect time to address climate change, but we must face facts. Climate change is already hitting home in Nevada. Droughts are getting more severe. A smaller snowpack puts our supply of water at risk. Heat waves are expected to increase. Wildfire smoke and hotter days degrade air quality and increase related health problems.

There is no sweeping reform that solves the problem. We need step-by-step action that not only helps the climate, but also helps our communities in their daily lives. While many climate saving policies come with increased taxes, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act puts money back in taxpayers’ pockets.

The bill provides a bipartisan solution to speed the transition to clean energy. Here’s how it works: The policy puts a fee on fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal. It starts low but builds over time. Instead of that money going to the government, it goes directly into citizens’ hands to spend on whatever they want. To protect US jobs, imported goods will pay a border carbon adjustment and goods exported from the US will receive a refund. While this does drive up the cost of fossil fuels, two-thirds of households will get at least enough cash back to cover higher costs.

The big oil companies are already investing in clean energy because they are facing increased competition from renewables. The cost of solar photovoltaic energy is competitive with natural gas and less than coal. Between 2008 and 2019, the price of solar dropped 87%, and the price of wind dropped 83%.

 Exxon has known about the effect of burning fossil fuels on the climate for 40 years according to former employees. During that time, big oil companies have fought to keep the status quo. Behind the scenes, however, they’ve also seen the writing on the wall as the ever advancing march of progress bears down. BP, Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Total, and Eni (the “big six” oil companies) are all investing in clean energy—just not enough.

 Unfortunately, these companies only spent 1% of their combined budgets on green energy in 2018. It’s clear that we need to give these companies the incentives to ramp up plans to divest from fossil fuels. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act will not put these companies out of business, it will help them transition further and further into clean energy by making it more financially lucrative.

Nevadans support this transition. In a recent poll by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project, 71% of Nevadans support gradually transitioning to one hundred percent clean, renewable energy over the next ten to fifteen years.

“I know so many young Republicans who care about climate change,” said Jacob, a Republican staffer in Washington D.C. and Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteer. “Addressing climate change has become universal among young people. We want to preserve nature for our families, being outside is key for any child’s development. It really brings people together in a way that nothing else can. Republican and conservative values go hand-in-hand with addressing climate change and conservation.”

The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act was introduced to the House of Representatives in 2019 with backing from both sides of the aisle. Though it didn’t get to the floor for a vote, that hasn’t stopped CCL from urging the swift reintroduction of the bill in the 117th US Congress. We ask that you call your member of congress and tell them that you support the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. The bill will put money in your pocket and help secure a better future for you, your sons and daughters, and their children.


 Mitch Reames is a journalist and nature-lover who lives in Las Vegas. He wants nothing more than to make sure his kids get the same love for the outdoors and safety he felt as a child in their childhoods. For more information on CCL.


The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Our newsroom remains entirely independent of our opinion page. Published opinions further public conversation to fulfill our civic responsibility to challenge authority, act independently of corporate or political influence, and invite dissent.