Sometimes it seems like certain politicians won't support climate action until hell--or Texas--freezes over. Well, after last month, the climate threat is clear as can be, and it's time for Congress to act.
On Feb. 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.
Here in Russellville, we had a very rapid drop in temperature to minus 9 degrees. That was as cold as I have ever seen in my 37-plus years in our community of Bradley Cove just outside Russellville. We received nine inches of snow. We were very concerned about the potential of power grid failure, as Entergy called us, asking that we reduce power consumption to avoid blackouts. I had to drive to the hospital to get a covid test prior to a medical procedure. The trip was harrowing.
Our daughter, who lives in Dallas, said many of her neighbors and friends were without power and/or water for prolonged periods.
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 noted 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 businesses. 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 Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which garnered 85 co-sponsors by the end of the last Congress. I urge my senators, the Honorable John Boozman and the Honorable Tom Cotton, as well as my representative, the Honorable Steve Womack, to support a carbon pricing policy in the current Congress.
The extreme weather ravaging our nation should serve as a warning that our climate could one day be unbearable if we fail to take the actions necessary to rein in climate change. An effective price on carbon with money given to households can put us on the path to preserving a livable world.
Larry Price is a volunteer with the Russellville chapter of Citizens' Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens' Climate Lobby.