Why Washington Failed To Pass Climate Policy And What We Must Do Next

Last Tuesday night, I gathered in a small makeshift office in Southwest Washington with environmental activists to watch the election results for Initiative 1631, the most effective climate policy ever proposed in the United States. Going into election night, our group was exhausted, yet bright-eyed and bushy tailed over the thought of a policy passing that could make the transition to 100% renewables that much smoother. The initiative would establish a carbon fee on the biggest polluters in the state, and invest that money into renewables and sustainable communities. We knew that if this initiative were to pass, there would be no doubt that other states would follow Washington’s lead.

The importance of this initiative for the future of our country and planet was heavier than anything else on the ballot, which is why over the past year, hundreds of Washington activists temporarily put their lives on hold to organize, collect signatures, write op-eds, phone-bank, and canvass neighborhoods to put 1631 on the ballot and ensure its success. I aspire to go to law school, yet my final year of undergrad work was envelopped by my passion to help voters see the truth by voting for our planet earth. We knew what we were up against. Halfway through the campaign, the out-of-state fossil fuel industry had already spent over $20 million to spread unabated lies about about 1631 to Washington residents. In the last few weeks of the election, BP spent another $10 million to ensure Washingtonians were convinced that this initiative would hurt the economy.

I-1631 could not have been on the ballot at a better time or at a worse time. Yet just three weeks ago, a massive global scientific report warned that we have twelve years to rapidly decarbonize our economies and pass sweeping carbon fees and taxes before catastrophic damage occurs on a scale we’ve never seen before. Around the same, however, BP met with it’s partners and word-for-word announced that they wished to “destroy 1631’s campaign so that nobody ever attempts a climate policy like it ever again”.

As a young person who is new to politics, I am disgusted by the actions of this dying industry. How is it fair that a practical initiative, whose model desperately needs to be implemented around the world to get us on the right path, can be squashed so hard by corruption and money? How can a people-powered campaign, whose only interests are to keep our planet livable and improve quality of life, be portrayed by oil oligarchs as the exact opposite of who we really are? The moral compass of this industry is broken. In fact it has never existed. Big oil caused a planetary crisis, and they’re currently doing everything they can to ensure that their pockets are padded at the expense millions of people who have and will suffer or die from climate catastrophes in the next two decades. Over and over again, we see the path we ought to be following twisted and turned by special interests. Oil companies spent a total of $100 million to ensure that no climate policy passed in any state this midterm election. Despite our earth and best scientists begging us to act, passing climate policy in the United States has never been so difficult, but we should, we can, and we must overcome this barrier on the path to a better world.

So, we must exponentially expand our people power. We must educate our neighbors, schools, communities, and state on a grandiose scale, so that we all have the collective knowledge to reject the oily lies. Everyone must know the stakes of the climate. These conversations can no longer be discussed in an institutional silo. Everyone must be empowered to be able to resist the confusion that the oil industry injects into politics, because we know that these policies are simple, we have the technology to carry them out, and we have no other choice but to save our future. I hate to say it, but we must play their game and raise more money for these campaigns. The rich who claim themselves to be activists must step up and show out like never before.

I know one thing for sure — we cannot continue living our lives constantly teetering on the edge of disaster. I refuse to grow up in a world characterized by record-breaking weather events every month, and I will not accept living in an apocalyptic world by the age of 30. Initiative 1631 represents a larger movement than Washington itself. Young people and environmental justice groups are mobilizing across the country like never before. Clean energy has never been so affordable. Women and people of color are representing our communities in congress more than ever before. The fact that big oil spent more than any other election in state history proves they were scared of this movement getting stronger than it already is. We may have lost this battle, but we will win the war. A better world is still out there, but we must go grab it from those preventing us from moving forward.

College student, Climate Reality Leader, and Our Climate fellow. Interested in living on a habitable planet by the time I’m 30.