The full moon in July had a striking orange glow as it rose in the night sky over Evanston. It was a beautiful sight, but the reason for the unusual color is disturbing. Smoke particles from over 100 wildfires in the West have blown across the country causing the sun to appear red-tinted and the moon to look orange. During the day, the air looked hazy. The smoke from the wildfires is polluting the air as far away as New York.  Evanston residents may have noticed air quality alerts on their weather apps. 

The Pacific Northwest has experienced record-breaking heat, which has contributed to out-of-control fires in the region. Extreme heat intensified the dry conditions, which turned vegetation into easily ignited tinder. The frequency and duration of heatwaves increases the likelihood that the fires will be more intense, more widespread and longer-burning. The impact of climate change on wildfires has cost tens of billions of dollars, not to mention the tragic loss of lives, homes and wildlife habitats and the impact on our health.

The periods of extreme heat and drought seem to be increasing season by season. Researchers at NASA and NOAA are finding that, according to satellite data, the Earth is warming faster than expected. We are going to need a vigorous response to win the battle against the catastrophic impacts of climate change. 

The Biden Administration promised to take aggressive action to tackle climate change, but in June, they removed their climate change proposals from the bipartisan infrastructure package. Senate Democrats are now looking to take climate action through the budget reconciliation process, which allows specific budget-related legislation to bypass the filibuster so it can pass with just 51 rather than the full 60 votes and circumvent the need for Republican support. Only policies that change spending or revenues can be included, making carbon pricing a good fit. Senate Democrats recently released a proposal for a reconciliation package that will contain the strongest proposals yet enacted to tackle climate change. One of those measures should be a price on carbon, a policy that climate scientists and economists agree is a best first step to mitigating our climate crisis. Pricing carbon is an inexpensive and efficient way to reduce emissions because it encourages individuals and businesses to become more energy efficient and will unleash innovations in developing new sources of clean, renewable energy. Evanston’s own Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP), which has set a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, supports placing a price on carbon. 

An economy-wide price on carbon can quickly reduce America’s carbon pollution and improve the chances of meeting the Biden Administration’s goal of 50% emissions reductions in the next decade. Studies show that a carbon price will save over 4.5 million American lives over the next 50 years by restoring clean air across the country. This is particularly important for communities of color, which suffer the worst health impacts of burning fossil fuels. 

This is a rare moment where Congress is now poised to take meaningful action on the climate. If the Democrats lose their majority in the midterms, they will lose the ability to use this reconciliation mechanism. As deputy whip, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has a particularly important role to play in this process. In keeping with Evanston’s history of bold climate action on climate, residents concerned about the impacts of climate change should urge Senators Durbin and Tammy Duckworth to include carbon pricing in the reconciliation package.

Our leaders have a real opportunity to come together and make a difference to the future of our planet this year. This is a battle we must win.

By Sheila Brown