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AP-NORC Poll: Most Americans see weather disasters worsening (copy)

Tony Pagan, left, helps a friend set sandbags in place over a plastic tarp on the back door as they prepare to evacuate before Hurricane Dorian arrives with its storm surge and tropical storm winds in Tybee Island, Ga. “This is climate change, though President Trump denies that it is,” Pagan, a 69-year-old retired electrician said as he and his wife finished packing to evacuate. “He needs to open his eyes.”

(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

As the accelerating threat of climate change unfolds before our eyes, our leaders and society must come together and move forward with solutions to address that threat. Although this has been perceived as a partisan issue, times are changing. Polling shows rising concerns across the political spectrum, and pressure is mounting on Republicans in Congress to step up and take on this issue.

Recent Reuters/Ipsos polling reveals the percentage of Americans who see climate change as an “imminent” threat is growing, and more than two-thirds want Washington to work with other nations to combat it. As calls for action grow more urgent, Republicans risk being left behind if they continue to ignore climate change. With so many constituents in the Midwest and Southern states affected by this past spring’s flooding, as well as extreme coastal weather and wildfires, it’s little wonder that some Republicans in Congress are coming to the table on climate solutions.

Carbon pricing is emerging as a bipartisan solution to climate change, the step that places the U.S. firmly on the path to reducing carbon emissions quickly enough to avoid the worst effects of a warming world. Just before members of Congress left for August recess, several bills were introduced in both the House and Senate to impose a carbon fee and dividend structure that creates a financial incentive for everyone to reduce emissions.

Two of the House bills were introduced as bipartisan legislation by Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., and Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., both of whom also cosponsored the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763) earlier this year. The new bills affirm the growing appetite in Congress to price carbon, and their introduction is likely to broaden the conversation between Republicans and Democrats on climate solutions.

In a memo to Republican congressional offices in June, Republican pollster Frank Luntz warned the party it risks alienating Republicans under the age of 40 who are increasingly concerned about climate change. Polling from a firm that Luntz once led shows that 58% of GOP voters under 40 are more concerned about climate change than they were a year ago. Asked about a carbon fee and dividend proposal along the lines of the Energy Innovation Act, GOP voters said they would favor such an approach by a 2 to 1 margin.

The Energy Innovation Act, which would place a steadily rising fee on carbon-emitting fuels, enjoys bipartisan appeal because of its revenue neutrality. It returns all revenue from the fee to the American people in the form of a dividend. Thus, the government does not grow in size, and the revenue goes straight back into the economy. It is also effective, reducing carbon emissions 40% within the first 12 years and 90% by 2050.

Republicans give high priority to jobs and the economy. They should therefore take note of a statement published in The Wall Street Journal last January supporting the carbon fee and dividend. This was signed by over 3,500 economists. Signatories included all four former chairs of the Federal Reserve, 27 Nobel Laureates, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers, and two former secretaries of the Department of Treasury. Furthermore, a study by Regional Economic Models Inc. projected that a carbon fee and dividend, as proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, will create over 2 million new jobs in the first 10 years.

In considering their many voters who identify as people of faith, Republicans should be encouraged by the fact that the Energy Innovation Act has garnered statements of support from faith-based groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, and the Evangelical Environmental Network.

Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, has championed causes with bipartisan support such as anti-sex trafficking legislation and paid family leave. Her leadership is now needed on a bipartisan solution to rein in climate change. By cosponsoring H.R. 763, Rep. Wagner can help place our nation on a path to avoid the catastrophic impact that lies ahead in a climate-altered world. Future generations will thank her for such leadership.

Tim Ely is a volunteer with the St. Louis chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.