Outlandish heat waves around the globe. Powerful hurricanes lashing our shores. Disastrous fires sweeping through forests and people’s homes. Droughts that affect our food supply. More and more people can see the pressing and immediate impacts of climate change on themselves and those around them.
At the national level, two-thirds of Americans think the federal government should do more to address climate change. At a local level, polling data doesn’t exist, but I think it is fair to say that residents of the overwhelmingly liberal village of Oak Park want something done as well.
What else is true at both of these levels, and at many in between? There is a gap between our stated desires and what is being accomplished.
In our federal government, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party promised to address climate change in the huge Build Back Better bill, and when that effort died, to still take up climate action in the remaining reconciliation bill this year. But Joe Manchin just pulled his support and killed that effort. In Oak Park, the village is moving forward on approving a Climate Action Plan. But we still don’t have the kind of concrete ordinances that we need to make a strong local climate impact.
So what do we need nationally? A good start would be implementing a carbon fee and dividend system that charges fossil fuel producers a fee for the carbon emissions in their products at the source. This fee would increase the costs of fossil fuel production and use, thereby incentivizing producers and consumers to move away from carbon-emitting energy sources and toward renewable energy. The proceeds generated by this fee would be returned to American households via a dividend, defraying any increased energy costs, especially for low- and middle-income households.
And what do we need locally? First and foremost, we need to electrify our local building and transportation infrastructure. Illinois has passed legislation that will transition all electricity production to renewable sources by 2045, and we can push the state to move that deadline even earlier.
But that transition will not have the impact needed if much of our household energy comes from natural gas for heating needs or if our cars still burn gasoline. Every building constructed with natural gas infrastructure locks that building into burning gas for the life of the equipment — possibly several decades. Consequently, first and foremost we need a village ordinance requiring that all new village construction include all-electric infrastructure, without natural gas.
We need to push on all kinds of levers to address climate change immediately. At the national level. At the state level. At the local level. Strike up a conversation with someone. Call your senators and your local trustees.
We can get discouraged that the action we need is not happening. But we can’t let that discouragement drive us into apathy or despair. Every conversation, every call, every action makes a difference — because the sooner we can shift our systems at any and every level, the better we can make our future.
Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident, an educator, and a blogger at Entwining.org.