As a young environmentalist, I’m always hearing apologies. People apologize to me, on behalf of older generations, for greenhouse gas emissions that will affect my life more than theirs. These apologies are legitimate; though the effects of climate change can be seen today, they will be even more destructive in the future. However, there’s a problem here: No single generation deserves all of the blame.
I am personally responsible for climate change. Even though we have known that humans cause climate change since I was born, I am not exempt from the collective harm we have caused. Simply knowing that we are destroying the planet does not absolve us of our atmospheric sins. Everyone, of all ages, has some responsibility for what we have done. Now, most importantly, we are responsible for what we do next.
Just as we have responsibility for climate change, we face its consequences. Problematically, talk of climate change has been dominated by predictions of rising sea levels. This allows us to convince ourselves that we’re distanced from the problem. In reality, no one is safe from the consequences of climate change.
Even in Iowa, a thousand miles from any beach, there’s imminent danger. Our rivers are not immune to flooding, as everyone in Cedar Rapids knows. Our crops are not immune to severe storms, droughts or parasites. There’s a reason they call it global climate change. Therefore, all regions must contribute to a solution.
If climate change transcends concrete boundaries like age and region, then it must also transcend one that is artificial: political party. Why does “conservative” have to mean anti-conservation? Why has “liberal” come to mean indifference toward the economy? Our climate is the casualty of this artificial divide. To reverse this, we need a collective way forward. This is happening in the U.S. House of Representatives within the Climate Solutions Caucus. This ever-growing group, now 26 Democrats and 26 Republicans, is an example of how politicians can work together on climate. However, there are not yet any Iowans in the caucus. Because we face our own specific set of climate change consequences, we need our own representation. The only way this will happen is if the constituents demand it.
When it comes down to it, action is not limited to Washington: we can contribute at the ground level. Being a part of the non-partisan group Citizens’ Climate Lobby has taught me how important both non-partisanship and making your voice heard are to protecting our future on this planet.
People of all ages, regions and parties face the consequences of complacency to climate change. It is time to take responsibility and create action that benefits all. There are options, one being a revenue-neutral carbon fee, that have the potential to grow the economy while protecting our planet. Economists from all sides of the political spectrum recommend a market-based solution like a carbon fee. Pricing carbon will send clear market signals that it’s time to transition to renewables, while giving the revenue back to the people eliminates the higher cost of living. This policy would reduce emissions while creating jobs, a win-win for Iowa.
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From my perspective as a student of economics, this is a no-brainer. A carbon fee, such as CCL’s proposal, deserves real consideration. Mitigating climate change doesn’t have to come as a “cost.” What we can’t afford is to keep politicizing the health of our planet. Our problem is mutual, let’s find a solution that is mutually beneficial and satisfies both sides of the (artificial) aisle.
l Maria McCoy, from Iowa City, is a student at St. Olaf College, and summer intern with Iowa City Climate Advocates