No one needs to tell Alaskans that climate change is real. We see the impacts as glaciers retreat, permafrost thaws, sea ice melts and weather patterns change dramatically. We see increased coastal erosion threatening two dozen Alaska Native villages.
Locally and globally, people are losing so much as the climate changes so rapidly. To slow it down, we’re going to need all hands on deck and every tool in the toolbox. That means bringing all the best solutions, even some technologies that are still in development, need more research or require additional investments to bring to the marketplace.
One recent positive step to make that happen came from Congress, with an Alaskan leading the way: Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Congress passed the Energy Act of 2020 as part of a larger spending bill this month. It does several key things to help our economy, our health and our climate.
First, the bill provides much-needed support for renewable energy implementation. It advances the development of carbon capture and storage and improved nuclear systems that can ease the transition to a cleaner, greener economy. It also enables the adoption of technology to increase energy efficiency in homes, businesses and industrial facilities — not just reducing emissions but saving money for customers. And, it helps build a modern electric grid with increased battery storage that makes it easier to adopt renewable power sources like wind and solar.
Finally, the bill begins the phase out of hydrofluorocarbons, a potent climate pollutant. This will help significantly reduce harmful greenhouse emissions, and slow climate change. Environmental groups and business groups alike support it, as do leaders from both major political parties.
These are all important elements of progress toward a healthier planet and sustainable economy. When you add them together, this package is the most significant legislation to fight climate change and promote clean energy to pass Congress in more than a decade.
It took so long because climate change is a complex and contentious issue, and partisan divisions have slowed Congressional action. Taking this important first step required a renewed spirit of bipartisanship and collaboration.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski has heard from her Alaska constituents and seen the damage that climate change has brought to her state and to many other states. She has led the passage of the act, working with other senators from both parties, consistent with her efforts to demonstrate that bipartisan progress is possible. This is leadership we can celebrate and encourage from others.
There is still a lot we need to do in order to make the changes to slow climate change, reduce risks to people and property, and create the clean energy jobs of the future — today. We need to drastically reduce carbon emissions in every sector of our economy. We need to transition to clean energy and adopt natural climate solutions that help forests and soil absorb and store more carbon. The Nature Conservancy is also working with communities in Alaska and around the world to ensure we have the resources and partnerships to create innovative tools for climate resilience.
As a longtime Alaskan and as a grandmother who worries about the future, I want all of us to work toward solutions that will put our country on the path to a safer, healthier environment.
That’s why I am grateful for Sen. Murkowski’s efforts to address climate change and thank her and her Senate colleagues for taking an important step forward. Here’s hoping the example they’ve set will be a model for continuing progress.
Fran Ulmer is the Chair of The Nature Conservancy’s global Board of Directors.
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