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Arctic conditions show climate change is here

Sometimes it seems like politicians won’t support climate action until hell — or Texas — freezes over. 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 drinking water. Texas came within minutes of catastrophic failures that could have caused month-long blackouts. Here in Oregon, ice caused chaos and cut power and heat to 300,000 homes and businesses in the Portland area.

Typically, a strong jet stream keeps Arctic air locked over the poles. As variability in our climate increases, the Arctic air warms, the jet stream weakens and frigid air dips down into lower latitudes. Climate scientists have explained that the large, persistent, southward dip in the jet stream responsible for this cold invasion is likely to happen more frequently in a warming climate.

As this pattern persists, we will continue to deal with challenges such as power outages and unsafe or limited drinking water — life-threatening conditions in the wake of extreme weather itself. While some politicians tried to place blame solely on un-weatherized wind turbines, instruments on gas pipelines and natural gas compressors also failed in the extreme cold.

America’s power grid needs to be better prepared for future extreme temperatures, but the real challenge is to address climate change. We’re running out of time to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the problem. We must 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 identifying a carbon tax as one of the critical 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. There is widespread agreement among the financial and economic sectors that a price on carbon is key in unleashing the power of markets to solve the problem they created. It is time to join Canada and the European Union in pricing carbon.

One example of this approach is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which garnered 85 cosponsors by the end of the last Congress. We urge Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Cliff Bentz to actively support such a market-based solution and put a price on pollution. Carbon pricing alone will not solve the climate crisis, but it will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 40%.

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 now. An effective price on carbon with money given to households can put us on the path to preserving a livable world.

Gretchen King is a member of the Southern Oregon branch of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.