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May 27, 2022

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In Our View: Public’s interest in climate action is growing

The Columbian
Published:

An ongoing opinion survey shows that climate change concerns are resonating with the public. According to the latest results, 33 percent of Americans are “alarmed” by global warming, no longer able to ignore increasing wildfires, floods, hurricanes and other climate disasters.

The survey, released twice a year by researchers from Yale University and George Mason University, shows a marked increase in public awareness. Five years ago, 18 percent of Americans were alarmed about the impact of a changing climate. Now, in addition to one-third of the public falling into that category, an additional 26 percent are “concerned.”

Locally, that concern was heightened by a heat wave last summer that brought record temperatures to Clark County, including a high of 115 degrees. The previous summer, wildfires in the region led to stifling smoke that shrouded urban areas. The impact is unavoidable.

With Americans increasingly recognizing the reality of climate change and its long-term dangers, it is time for elected leaders to react to the crisis. Efforts to reduce carbon emissions, increase the use of renewable energy and demand energy efficiency in construction must be a priority at the local, state and federal levels.

There is no time for debate about the existence of climate change or its causes. There is only time for action, and that time is running out.

President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” proposal includes $555 billion over 10 years for renewable energy and clean transportation, taking aim at the United States’ two largest sources of carbon emissions — electrical power and transportation. The bill, for example, would offer incentives for homeowners to install rooftop solar panels and would increase rebates for the purchase of an electric vehicle.

The legislation would be a significant investment toward Biden’s goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. But it remains stalled in Congress. A $2.2 trillion, 10-year package passed the House of Representatives by a 220-213 vote in November, but the Senate has yet to consider the bill because of opposition from Republicans and intransigence from Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, has opposed the bill, criticizing certain social safety net provisions that are included.

Indeed, the Build Back Better proposal might be overly ambitious. Democratic leaders are considering breaking it into several separate bills to allow for each provision to be considered on its own merit.

Regardless of which form the legislation takes, officials must recognize the public’s growing interest in climate provisions. Anthony Leiserowitz of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication said, “You’re beginning to see the coalescing of a powerful citizens’ movement demanding that leaders act, both business leaders and government leaders.”

Washington long has been a leader in recognizing the perils of climate change and taking action to address it. That has made our state a leader in the growing economic sectors of wind and solar energy, and it has made the Northwest a destination for climate-aware businesses.

But there is only so much that one state can do to reduce carbon emissions. Comprehensive action on the part of Congress is necessary to reflect the will of the people and to have a global impact on an existential crisis.

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