Climate change is real, but it is not intractable.

Suraj Patel
Mar 27, 2018 · 6 min read
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(Photo by Bobby Ghoshal on Unsplash)

Climate change is an existential threat and a moral obligation we face. We only have one remarkable planet and it’s imperative that we leave it in better condition for the next generation. Climate change is real but it is not intractable. We have the means and technology to solve it — the only thing we lack is political will, something I aim to change.

First, we need to acknowledge the problem: Cities along the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S. are experiencing higher than average sea level rise, year after year. If we can significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, there’s still time to slow the rise in global temperature by nearly six degrees farenheit. Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency, and the consequences of short-sighted spending are more obvious now than ever. Droughts and extreme precipitation already have a negative effect on our agriculture, water quality, infrastructure, and vital ecosystems.

Next, we need to acknowledge that laws work. The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other protections like these are dramatically and actively reducing our impact on this planet. In recent years, and against everyone’s best interest, Congress has made repeated attempts to weaken or eliminate these safeguards.

But they’re under assault — gains made by the Obama Administration to combat climate change are now in danger under the Trump Administration. Restrictions on methane emissions, protection for clean water, and legislation that protects endangered species and the Alaskan Wildlands could all disappear at any moment. President Trump refuses to acknowledge climate change, yet signs legislation that protects our Naval bases from its effects. This contradiction is a clear indication that the White House’s stance on climate is politically-motivated, not based in fact or on protecting individual citizens as it should be.

We need to invest, innovate, and get serious about solutions. It’s time for immediate climate action — bold policies to slow climate change and build more resilient communities. We must pass a Green New Deal.

Here are some of my ideas and priorities:

  1. We can reduce emissions with a climate dividend that directly benefits every American household.

The U.S. has more than three decades of experience using market-based approaches to slow and reduce the impact of climate change. We’ve had enormous success combating smog from leaded gasoline to acid rain when we offer economic incentives for behavior that benefits the environment. We need new, simple market-based proposals to combat carbon emissions. However, past efforts to implement cap and trade or a carbon tax have been put forward, but met with little legislative enthusiasm, while non-market-based approaches include investing in nuclear energy, modernizing infrastructure, improving energy efficiency, and building community resilience through plans like the National Flood Insurance Program work, but are highly capital intensive.

A comprehensive approach would both address ongoing emissions as well as help build resilient communities and begin to undo the damage of past emissions. I am a firm supporter for a Carbon Fee and Dividend mechanism, which would place a steadily rising fee on carbon emissions and distribute that money back to households as a monthly dividend. This approach is simpler and more straightforward than other carbon tax or cap-and-trade proposals, and provides an incentive for voters to support political action targeting carbon emissions.

A carbon dividend has the potential to lower carbon emissions to 50% of 1990 levels, add over 2 million jobs in the United states, and help the nation innovate and transition to alternative-energy technologies. British Columbia implemented a similar system in 2008 and has seen a marked decrease in use of petroleum products since then. The revenues from British Columbia’s carbon dividend were used to provide low income tax credits as well as reduce personal, small business, corporate taxes, and personal income taxes. In the United States, legislation to implement a CF&D system was introduced to the House in 2009 and again in 2015, but was blocked by climate change skeptics. We should revisit this bill as a priority and push it with its bipartisan group of authors as our best option to deal with this truly existential threat.

2. We must embrace new technology as part of the solution.

Investment in and employment of innovative technology is a vital tool in protecting our planet. Providing green energy at a low cost is a high priority for the U.S., and a Canadian company I find interesting, General Fusion, is even making its own. It plans to create a commercially viable nuclear-fusion-energy plant, which would be inherently safe, use less land that typical energy production, and produce no emissions other than harmless helium. This is something we should keep an eye on, learn from, and consider an inspiring example for what’s possible here.

Advances in transportation (which accounts for 23% of CO2 emissions) — especially the use of batteries — would make great strides in cutting down harmful emissions. Similarly, manufacturing accounts for 30% of emissions, and the use of promising technology that captures this CO2 and turns it into fuel could lessen the strain of industry on the environment.

Skeptics of climate change and opponents of pro-environment policy insist that green technology is prohibitively expensive or complicated, but nothing could be further from the truth. Innovative companies from urban farmers to giants like Tesla have proven that green technologies and energy are economically viable across the board, at all scales and in every industry. The answers are already here, they cost less than ever and actually save us money, and there is no downside to embracing innovation — fiscally or otherwise.

3. We must continue to support innovation and collaboration here in NYC.

With so much shoreline, NYC faces increased risk from rising sea levels, heat waves, and extreme storms. Floods of 7.4 feet or more, which used to occur in the New York area once every 500 years are now happening every 25, and could strike as frequently as every five years in the next 30 years.

The National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure has proposed a system of underwater gates, which can be raised and lowered to block surges. Gates like these could have prevented most of the damage done by hurricane Sandy, and would cost around $25 billion. Another project, The Big U, will employ a system of berms and walls around lower Manhattan up to midtown to create a flood-protection zone and also provide increased access to the waterfront. The first part of The Big U, The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, is in the final design phase, with construction slated for 2019, and the second part of The Big U, the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project, is still in the design phase, with construction estimated for 2020.

In 2016, New York City was ranked first in the nation in the Sustainable Cities Index. NYC is home to many projects working toward a more sustainable city: a tidal energy project on Roosevelt Island, passive buildings (using shading, insulation, and ventilation to regulate temperature), solar panels in StuyTown, the SIMS Municipal Recycling facility, green growing and white painted roofs to regulate temperature, and DSNY’s innovative salt shed complex.

I’m especially excited to support organizations with creative solutions to promote resilience, like the New York Harbor School’s Billion Oyster Project to revitalize the communities, ecosystem, and maritime economy, of New York Harbor. Local partnerships between educational institutions, business communities, and innovative activists are the future of effective environmentalism and we need federal programs that encourage and support them.

4. We must alleviate the impact of climate change on marginalized communities.

As the global climate continues to change, minorities bare more than their share of the burden of risks from climate change and pollution. Communities of color and low-income communities face an increased vulnerability because of the compounded stresses of ongoing heat, poor air quality, flooding, and mental health stress. Combating climate change is more than about stopping rising temperatures: it is an economic and social issue and a successful approach will acknowledge the interconnectedness of these networks. For me, this is something that should not and cannot be forgotten when we develop and evaluate policy around limiting the inevitable impact of climate change.

None of these solutions are out of reach, but they are impossible to achieve with a divided Congress that refuses to compromise on climate. And until we change our representation, it’s unlikely we’ll pass effective policies to reduce the impact of climate change on our communities.

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