A renewed sense of urgency and commitment on this Earth Day

My most important constituents are three little boys under the age of four; my grandchildren. Like grandparents everywhere, I know that they are bright, active, mischievous, beautiful children. I am committed to ensuring that they have the bright future ahead that their parents want for them and that they deserve.

I watched my mother live long enough to hold her first great grandchild shortly before she passed away. That sight had a profound effect on me for a number of reasons; one of which was that, should that baby live as long as his great grandmother, he would be alive in the year 2100. Suddenly, a date that seems so far in the future when we talk about the highly likely cataclysmic events from climate change and extreme weather, no longer seems like such an abstraction.

These little guys will likely live to see it. It will be their reality. Being under four, each year of their young lives has been warmer than the year before — each the warmest ever recorded. Sadly, this year appears to be no different and with it will come the extreme weather events, the spike and plunge in temperature, with ice and snow at unexpected times. For much of their country, drought has become part of the “new normal,” destroying wildlife habitat, and spreading disease and human misery. The disappearing snow packs don’t just affect the scenery, but also the vital water flows that fish and farmers depend upon and the dams that supply much electricity for the Pacific Northwest.

The question arises, how much of this relentless change becomes an established pattern? How long before it dramatically disrupts their lives? Can we even imagine the ecological damage if even half of the predictions of rapid sea level rise and increasing weather turbulence come to pass?

This is not just a sobering prospect; I find it terrifying, and these little guys and their parents don’t deserve it.

It makes Earth Day take on a whole new meaning for me, a renewed sense of urgency and the commitment to these little boys and their classmates. Why wouldn’t I and everyone in a position of responsibility, do everything we can to make their future a little brighter? Why would we put money in their college fund and not invest time, money, and effort into the future of their planet?

Many leaders around the world are taking action to do just that. Today marks the first day that the historic Paris Agreement on climate change can be signed. Recognizing the urgency of the problem, over 160 of the world’s nations will come together today in New York to sign it, easily breaking the record for the number of countries to sign an international agreement on the opening day. We should be proud that the United States will be part of this group.

What’s frustrating is that the steps we should be taking to protect their future are not that hard or mysterious. First, put a price on carbon pollution. This is the simplest, most powerful thing we should tomorrow. But there are other steps we should follow: one, change our farming practices to release less carbon, lower demands for water, and create a healthier public as a bonus; two, shop where sustainability is the rule, not just a marketing technique; and three, think about our own carbon footprint, how and when we move, where we live and how we invest our retirement. These daily decisions we make are part of a pattern of billions of individual decisions every hour around the world. The ability to change the nature of these decisions by example and practice is the most powerful tool any of us have today to protect the future of our children and great grandchildren.

The irony is that they are not that hard. For all the moaning about carbon policy disrupting the economy, these actions are actually not very expensive and far more cost effective than continuing the current, reckless, mindless pattern of socialism for coal and petroleum. Reconsidering the lavish subsidies, the environmental and health damage to the landscape, air, and water, could actually pay huge dividends because Congress has done very little in the two decades I’ve been here, except to fight the modest and important actions of the Obama administration. I don’t know if we will be able to avoid the worst predictions for my grandchildren in their old age or whether their grandchildren will have a world that is unrecognizable. But I do know that failure to take these actions will make that future worse and will constitute a crime against humanity, a crime against our grandchildren.

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