OP-ED: Healing our nation and our climate

Jon Clark
Citizens Climate Lobby

I’m really looking forward to traveling to Washington, D.C., next month. I’ve been traveling to D.C. one or two times a year for the last nine years to talk to my elected member of Congress about climate change.

I have to admit, it is work to keep going from office to office on Capitol Hill, talking to both Republicans and Democrats about our preferred solution, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. I’ve been doing this awhile now.

Only two years ago, I was alongside Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers advocating for just the concept of fee and dividend. The concept was to put a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels and take that money and return it equally to American households to encourage families and businesses to reduce their “carbon footprint.” Since then, the concept has been introduced in the House of Representatives as HR 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act by a Republican and several Democrats and now has 65 cosponsors.

It feels good to see the progress we have made in moving Congress, but I also have to admit,  progress is moving far too slowly for my taste. After all, it’s become abundantly clear climate change is not going to stop and wait for all the distractions going on in Washington, D.C.  We don’t all pause our lives to stop pumping massive amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere while waiting for our elected officials to finally get around to addressing climate change. Life goes on and the earth reacts to humanity’s pollution, its physics and chemistry.

This July, the earth experienced its hottest month in recorded human history. Last month, the planet experienced its hottest September ever recorded. Greenland’s ice sheet experienced a massive melt season this year, with meltwater rates scientists were predicting wouldn’t happen for another 50 years.

FILE - In this July 25, 2019, file photo, the sun sets in Cuggiono near Milan, Italy. A new U.N. report on warming and land use says climate change is hitting us where it counts: the stomach. The scientific report on Thursday, Aug. 8, finds that as the world warms it degrades the land more. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)

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But the even larger Antarctic ice sheet also is shrinking, and its mass loss tripled between 2007 and 2016 compared to the previous 10 years. Because of all this melt, scientists are telling us that sea level rise will very likely exceed 3 feet by the end of the century if we don’t drastically reduce emissions now.

Oceans are warming faster than predicted as well. Recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report with very disturbing news. Marine heatwaves have killed off vast stretches of Earth's coral reefs, have very likely doubled in frequency and are projected to become more common and intense.

Also they found it’s "virtually certain" that the world's oceans have warmed nonstop since 1970 and have absorbed 90 percent of the planet's excess heat. These warming oceans are fuel for hurricanes, which are increasing in frequency and intensity. Just days ago, the Weather Channel reported that super typhoon Hagibis' rapid intensification was one of the most explosive on record. It went from a tropical storm to a Category 5 Super-typhoon in just one day. This was one of the most explosive rapid intensifications of any tropical cyclone on record anywhere on Earth. 

Clearly the earth isn’t waiting for Washington, D.C., to get past the gridlock.

Clearly there is a lot of dysfunction in Washington right now, but that’s not stopping this global disaster. One of my favorite things to do when I visit D.C. (and something I don’t do enough) is to visit some of our nation’s memorials to our great leaders. One of my favorite memorials is dedicated to one of our great Republican statesmen, Abraham Lincoln.  Sometimes I’ll just sit in quiet and read the inscriptions on the wall inside the memorial. On the north chamber wall of the memorial is Lincoln’s entire second inaugural address.

Lincoln gave this address just days before the end of the Civil War, addressing a divided nation torn apart by a war against the evil of slavery. One line from his address stands out to me at this point in our history. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds.”  

Lincoln called for the nation to be unified. It wasn’t a gloating victory speech over the South, but a call for the country to unify, to see what is the right course of action and to follow it, to treat each other how we’d like to be treated, to heal, and for all parties to pull together to bind the nation’s wounds.  

Our nation’s leaders could stand to reflect on Lincoln’s words. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act could be just the thing to bind our nation right now. Humanity faces an extreme challenge in climate change. Democrats and Republicans especially, can easily sign on as co-sponsors to the EICDA. Doing so can help to bridge the partisan divide and gridlock so that we can all move towards slowing an impending global catastrophe, while creating a political atmosphere with malice towards none and charity for all.

— Jon Clark is the mid-Atlantic co-regional coordinator for the Citizens Climate Lobby and lives in Lancaster.