The heat is on — Why a climate and energy bill can’t wait

Pika are one of many species threatened by climate change. Photo by William C. Gladish.

In the early summer heat of 2009, the House of Representatives passed a historic, comprehensive, climate and energy bill called the American Climate and Energy Security Act. Now, more than year later, as a record heat wave is cooking Washington DC, the Senate will (hopefully) pick up where the House left off last summer and begin debate on its own comprehensive climate and energy bill.

The Wilderness Society staff have been working tirelessly to promote the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas pollution for our wildlands, and the job-creating potential of a climate bill that includes funding for jobs protecting our communities and wild places from the unavoidable effects of climate change.

Members and supporters of The Wilderness Society have also been making their voices heard — sending letters to Congress urging them to pass legislation that cuts the carbon pollution, and makes polluters pay for the greenhouse gas they pump into the air. Already there has been one major victory — the defeat of the Senate resolution to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency and limit its ability to regulate climate change causing air pollution.

But there is still a long way to go.

A hyper-partisan Senate is not the best forum to debate legislation with such an enormous impact on American life. Unfortunately, our communities, our wild places, and our planet, cannot wait for another election, or another President, or a better political climate.

The Senate needs to act now to stop polluters, and protect our communities and wildlands from climate change.

Ending the free ride that polluters have been on — and making them pay for the degradation and destruction that pumping their greenhouse gases into our air is causing — is critical to protecting the lands that are such a part of American heritage.

Hikers in Glacier National Park in Montana. Photo by Jeff L. Fox.Places like Glacier National Park, the Everglades, and other iconic landscapes that define America’s outdoor legacy are all threatened by climate change. Few of the iconic glaciers still exist in Glacier National Park — the Everglades are threatened by rising sea levels that could swallow the mangroves and wetlands that make it such a treasured ecosystem. Many of the “must see” wild places could have their unique wild character degraded or destroyed by droughts, floods, wildfires, or any of the other extreme events that climate change brings with it. How will the next generation enjoy the outdoors if the iconic American landscapes are already ruined by global warming?

From the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic shores in Alaska, it is clear what an addiction to climate change-causing fossil fuels is costing America’s public lands. Rather than keeping the status quo in place, and risking more dead wildlife and more devastated habitats, the Senate should be pushing to pass a climate and energy bill — not dragging its feet.

The future of America’s wild places — our parks, our refuges, our forests — is too important to pass on to the next Congress, or the next President, or the next generation. Future generations should look back on this as the point that America changed from being the number one polluter to the leader in clean, renewable energy. When America stopped letting polluters poison our air and water, and sticking the taxpayer with the bill to clean it up. When American energy policy changed from oil slicks shimmering in the Gulf of Mexico to solar panels shimmering on our rooftops.

The time to protect our wildlands and communities is now. The Senate needs to turn up the heat on the carbon polluters and turn down the heat on global warming.

Pika are one of many species threatened by climate change. Photo by William C. Gladish.
Hikers in Glacier National Park in Montana. Photo by Jeff L. Fox.