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Carbon Tax Will Speed Up Zero-Carbon Transition

Sometimes it seems like hell –or Texas– has to freeze over before climate action comes to the forefront of many politicians’ minds. Well, after recent severe weather events, the climate threat is clear as can be, and it’s time for Congress to act.

On February 13, a winter storm began sweeping across the U.S. Within days, the frigid conditions and ensuing infrastructure challenges led to dozens of deaths, massive power outages, and millions without clean water. Texas came within minutes of catastrophic failures that would have caused months-long blackouts. Although we were relatively unscathed by the storm in Chautauqua County, we were concerned about the effects the storm would have on friends and relatives who live in Texas. Images on news reports of icicles hanging from toilet bowls and light fixtures were chilling. We wondered how to help, as we empathized with those who were unprepared for the unusual conditions they had to face.

So, why is this all happening? Typically, a strong jet stream keeps Arctic air locked over the poles. But as we see more variability in our climate and Arctic air warms, the jet stream weakens, gets wavy, and allows frigid air to dip down into lower latitudes.

“The large, persistent, southward dip in the jet stream responsible for this cold invasion is likely to happen more frequently in a warming climate,” climate scientist Jennifer Francis told national climate reporters. She notes that “warmer-than-normal spells” will happen more frequently, too.

As this pattern persists, we will continue to deal with challenges like power outages and unsafe or limited drinking water — life-threatening conditions in the wake of extreme weather itself. (And contrary to some claims, the outages were not due to an over-reliance on renewable energy. Not only wind turbines froze, but so did instruments, gas pipelines, coal piles, and natural gas compressors.)

There’s plenty to be said about modernizing America’s power grid, improving battery storage, and so on, to be better prepared for future extreme temperatures. But the root challenge is the same: we’re feeling the impact of climate change here and now, and we’re running out of time to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the problem. We must therefore use all the tools at our disposal to curtail those emissions.

One of the most effective tools is an ambitious price on carbon that will speed up the transition to a low- or zero-carbon economy. A carbon tax can quickly slash our emissions and save lives–plus, when designed right, it can actually pay people and benefit American business. Endorsements from the scientific community, businesses, economists, and more show that this is the consensus solution.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently released a new report naming a carbon tax as one of the solutions to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently announced its support of a “market-based approach to accelerate emissions reductions” — in other words, a carbon price. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is a longtime supporter of this approach, advocating not just for a carbon tax but for revenue to be returned to Americans in cash.

One example of this approach is the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA), which garnered 85 cosponsors by the end of the last Congress. We must urge Rep. Tom Reed to support a carbon pricing policy in the current Congress.

The extreme weather ravaging our nation should serve as a warning that our climate will continue to cause severe harm if we do nothing to rein it in. An effective price on carbon with money given to households can put us on the path to preserving a livable world.

M. Janey Wagner is a Fredonia resident and a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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