Friday, September 17, 2021
Sept. 17, 2021

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In Our View: Congress must take action on climate change

The Columbian
Published:

Joe Biden this week made his first trip as president to the West Coast, touching upon a topic that is top of mind for residents in this part of the country.

“We can’t continue to try and ignore reality … The reality is: We have a global warming problem,” the president said during a stop in Boise. He echoed that message during appearances in Colorado and California, attempting to drum up support for an infrastructure bill that includes several measures to fight climate change. We hope Congress was listening.

Indeed, reality continues to hit us in the face, with wildfires that have scorched Western states serving as the most noticeable outcome. While wildfires are endemic to the West, there also are other examples of the impact of climate change in our state.

Every part of Washington is abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. More than one-third of the state — in Eastern Washington — has conditions that qualify as “exceptional drought,” the first time a region of Washington has earned such a distinction since the monitoring system began in the 1980s. Southwest Washington officially is experiencing moderate to severe drought.

That creates consequences that are felt by all Washingtonians. As The Seattle Times reported about the state’s wheat crop: “By harvest time in July and August, wheat fields looked scrawny. The plants were less dense, often shorter and each head had fewer seeds than normal.”

Washington is expected to produce about 93 million bushels of wheat this year, the lowest output since 1973 and just 56 percent of last year’s yield.

Wheat typically is Washington’s biggest agriculture export, generating more revenue than even apples. A dilapidated crop not only makes life difficult for farmers and farmworkers, it creates higher prices and product shortages at the grocery store.

That represents a portion of the long-term costs of climate change. The immediate costs are even more evident.

An analysis by The Washington Post found that 1 in 3 Americans lives in a county hit by a declared weather disaster in the past three months, such as a hurricane, flooding or wildfire. Many more have been subject to extreme heat — such as June’s historic heat wave throughout Clark County.

“I’m here to hear what’s on your mind and what more my administration can be doing,” Biden told officials at the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho. “You know the time of the year the air fills with smoke and the sky turns orange, that time is getting earlier every year.”

What the administration can do is shepherd important legislation through Congress. Last month, the Senate passed a bipartisan $1 trillion bill focusing on infrastructure and including funding for new climate-resilience initiatives. Now, Democrats are hashing out the details of a $3.5 trillion bill that would fight climate change through clean-energy tax credits for individuals and businesses, a clean-energy electricity standard and the creation of a civilian climate corps.

Debate can and should be had over the bill’s inclusion of social services such as expanded Medicare, paid family leave and free community college, but the urgency of the climate initiatives is self-evident.

For too long, naysayers have been allowed to dispute the need for climate action by arguing that the science is unsettled. It is a tactic that has proven devastatingly costly in convincing many to ignore reality. Congress must immediately face that reality and take strong action while reacting to a changing climate.

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