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We must get serious about our climate

Persistent drought, especially low mountain snow packs, in the West. Record high, killer temperatures in the U.S. and throughout the world. Eight of the 10 hottest years ever recorded, all occurring since 2007. Glacial melt accelerating in Greenland and Antarctica. Rising sea levels swamping island nations and threatening low-lying coastal communities. Hurricanes wreaking such havoc on American cities that climatologists consider adding a new level of severity. Relentless rainstorms. Massive die-offs of coral reefs from ocean acidification. Unprecedented forest fires, including “fire tornados,” now blazing.

Those scenarios are not speculative forecasts, but our current reality. And yet, in 2017, the world’s populations emitted more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and oceans than ever before, ensuring even worse consequences ahead.

What will it take to convince us that we have to get serious about reversing greenhouse gas emissions creating climate change?

Our federal government has abandoned its responsibility to reduce emissions, abandoning even the modest steps taken by the previous administration. It has withdrawn from the Paris Accords, discarded power plant and vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, imposed tariffs on imported solar cells.

If only the citizens are left to care about our legacy to the next generation, then it is our duty to act. If we believe that science has correctly identified the human origins of climate change and predicted its harmful consequences, then we must act to prevent those consequences.

Elected officials at every level of government must be compelled by their constituents to promote energy efficiency and facilitate conversion to renewable energy sources. They need to hear from us that we care about the world we will leave to future generations, and that they need to care, as well.

So what can we do?

1. Educate ourselves. Read articles explaining research on climate change. Go to websites and presentations for more detail. Look for information from reliable, peer-reviewed sources, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

2. Change our own lifestyles to reduce our household emissions of carbon fuels. Weatherize our homes, install LED light bulbs, reduce our driving time through public transportation and carpooling, and eat less red meat. If possible, install rooftop solar panels and buy extra fuel-efficient vehicles.

3. Support organizations advocating public policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Look into Sierra Club, 350.org, New Energy Economy, Union of Concerned Scientists, National Resources Defense Council and other New Mexico groups committed to saving us from climate change.

4. Above all, we can’t give up while there is still time.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) chapters in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Corrales can be found, along with an explanation of our proposal, at citizensclimatelobby.org. CCL advocates for national carbon fee and dividend legislation that would impose a fee on carbon. This sends consumers a price signal reflecting the environmental costs of carbon emissions. The money collected by the fees would be returned to households in the form of a periodic per capita dividend. The more each family consumes, the more it pays in carbon fees; but the more efficient the family is in its energy usage, the more profit it gains from its dividend. Economic incentives get people focused and are proven effective (think how much less gasoline people used when the price was over $4 a gallon).

We as a nation have shown our ability to respond with unity to existential crises, such as attacks on our country. Climate change poses such a threat to our future, but because it unfolds in slow motion we have been slow to respond. Time is ticking away. We must all commit to putting the climate on our radar.

Retired attorney Paul Biderman was New Mexico Secretary of Energy and Minerals from 1983-86. He co-chairs the Santa Fe Chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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