Washington state is a recognized leader in the transition to clean energy, and recent legislative results underscore Washington’s commitment to a healthy environment and vibrant economy through clean energy policies and investments. But we cannot expect to solve this global challenge through our efforts alone, and the current geopolitical instability and Russia’s horrific acts of war call for prompt action to transition away from fossil fuels to safeguard our collective future.
Science and recent IPCC research show that the risks of carbon pollution are real, the environmental impacts have accelerated, and time to mitigate these impacts is running out. Extreme weather events, driven by excess greenhouse gas emissions, are ever more frequent and more expensive to recover from. Think of last summer’s deadly heat wave, the effects of low snowpack on Washington’s agriculture industry and wildfires raging throughout the western U.S.
By banning imports of its fossil fuel and imposing other sanctions, the U.S. and other countries are penalizing Russia politically and economically for its unprovoked war against Ukraine. But the Russian fuel ban resulted in a spike in energy prices, adding to the global financial strain marked by high inflation. The American Petroleum Institute favors a rapid increase in domestic oil and gas production, claiming this will bring prices down and boost energy security. This is a false solution and a false promise. The U.S. is a net exporter of energy and fuel prices depend heavily on the actions of foreign producers such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. More drilling would perpetuate our fossil fuel dependance and geopolitical instability, and delay the very policies and actions needed to slow carbon emissions.
Instead, we should accelerate America’s transition to clean energy. Washington state’s Climate Commitment Act of 2021 puts a cap and a price on carbon emissions and polluters, and promotes environmental justice and equity. But the rest of the nation must also act. A unified clean energy strategy would make energy prices more stable and affordable, while reducing the heat-trapping gases that are threatening our planet. Nationwide adoption would promote geopolitical, economic and climatic stability while increasing our national and global security. The E.U. is already taking steps in this direction, spurred by Russia’s aggression. It’s time for the U.S. to do the same.
A national carbon pricing policy — which the U.S. Senate is already seriously discussing — would provide a powerful catalyst for change. First, imposing a steadily increasing carbon price — paid by fossil fuel producers— would speed the transition to cleaner energy options throughout the entire economy. Second, revenue from the carbon price could be allocated to Americans as a regular dividend or “carbon cashback,” protecting Americans — and especially low-income households and people of color who suffer disproportionately from energy burden and pollution — from market instability and costs. This would also encourage clean energy choices. Third, a border carbon adjustment can be used to impose international pressure, which would help break the grip of oil states like Russia. The E.U. is already planning to implement a tariff like this, and Republicans in Congress are expressing support for a similar approach, which will facilitate and simplify trade with our E.U. partners.
During the Build Back Better negotiations last fall, a national price on carbon pollution was a prominent strategy under consideration. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said, “I’ve had a carbon pricing bill in my desk for the last three years just waiting for the time.” Republican Senator Mitt Romney said, “If you’re serious about climate, put a price on carbon.”
Our Congressional representatives need to engage in these policy discussions with renewed commitment. We can’t wait any longer for the transition to clean energy, and we have broad agreement on the policy tools that can take us there. Our climate, our energy future, our communities and families, and the stability of our world are at stake.
Madeleine Para is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Alan Hardcastle Is a volunteer with the Olympia Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Sabra Hull is a volunteer with the Lewis County Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby