How many more disasters can we endure?

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma just drowned Southeast Texas and Florida. In addition to the human costs, the estimated economic costs are staggering: JPMorgan estimated that the eventual insured losses could be anywhere from $35 billion to $80 billion for both storms combined. The National Flood Insurance Program, which is already $24 billion in debt due to the devastation from Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, is not at all ready to respond to the damage.

In Oregon this summer, wildfires half the size of Rhode Island have caused the evacuation of thousands of people and pushed unhealthy air into cities and towns. While the scale and scope of Oregonians’ suffering is not comparable to that of the hurricane victims, both situations should prompt self-reflection.

We have to ask ourselves: How many more storms will force us to measure rain in feet, rather than inches? How many more billions of dollars of strain will we put on the National Flood Insurance Program? How many hundreds of millions of Forest Service dollars will be shifted from forest management to firefighting? How many lives are we willing to risk in extreme weather events like these?

These all basically boil down to the same question: How many more years will we dump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with impunity? Because as long as we’re doing that, we’re signing up for more of the same — and worse.

We need legislation to shift the market away from the greenhouse gases causing climate change. Pricing carbon is the only legislative move that matches the scale of the problem we face. A national carbon-pricing bill would require fossil fuel companies to pay a fee for every ton of carbon dioxide or equivalent emissions. As the price rises each year, and as businesses look after their bottom lines, the market will quickly turn to low- or no-carbon options. With the revenue returned equally to American households as a dividend, studies show it would boost the economy, lower emissions, and set us on a course to stabilizing our climate.

This type of plan already has major conservative support. The Climate Leadership Council, led by Republican statesmen James Baker, Henry Paulson, George Shultz and others, released “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends” earlier this year. They explain that pricing carbon and returning the revenue to Americans will “strengthen our economy, reduce regulation, help working-class Americans, shrink government and promote national security.”

Republicans currently in Congress are taking note of the need for climate action, too. The bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, started by Florida’s Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Democrativ Rep. Ted Deutch is up to 52 members. This group of 26 Republicans and 26 Democrats are working together, including our Oregon Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici.

After another record-breaking wildfire season in Oregon, perhaps Rep. Greg Walden will join too. Let’s not wait idly by to see how many more days of devastation our unstable climate will wreak on our country. Instead, let’s see how many more representatives in Congress will step up.

— Sherrill Rinehart is the leader of the Southern Oregon chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Daniela Brod is the leader of the Portland chapter. Russ Donnelly and Helen Seidler, co-leaders of the Bend chapter, also signed this opinion.

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