For most of us, climate change used to feel like something far removed from our everyday lives. But recently, back-to-back disasters due to climate change have brought anxiety and grief close to home.
In Portland, anyone can recall the weeks of extremely noxious, and downright toxic, smoke from the numerous wildfires last September which caused many to evacuate and even lose their beloved homes.
Now, we have endured a reduced amount of smoke from wildfires in recent weeks, but there is smoke in the air and fires in our forests nonetheless, leaving many of us fearing what the future holds and when the next time our towns will be shrouded in layers of grey and eerie orange. And again, this summer's heat waves killed over 50 people in the Portland area and damaged plants and trees.
We're not the only ones struggling with the impacts and tough emotions of climate disasters. We've seen a continuing of massive marine die-offs and extreme weather events of every kind.
It's no wonder that, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey, more than six in 10 Americans (63%) now believe climate change is affecting their local community. But Sadly, a recent Yale survey found that 40% of Americans feel helpless about climate change.
When our future is so incredibly threatened, how can we respond?
"In a world that seems increasingly out of control, we are desperate for hope," climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe wrote recently in Time magazine. "Real hope offers a chance of a more vibrant future; a glimpse, however distant, of something better than what we have today, not worse. Where can we find such hope? We find it in action."
Here in the Portland area, a group of volunteers share that philosophy. We turn climate anxiety into action by advocating for federal legislation that would drastically lower emissions and stop climate change in its tracks.
Members of the Portland chapter of nonpartisan, grassroots organization Citizens' Climate Lobby meet regularly with the offices of U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and U.S Rep. Suzanne Bonamici. We work to show our elected leaders that bold action on climate change is not only needed but popular.
Since August, we have joined thousands of Citizens' Climate Lobby volunteers nationwide to help generate 54,000 emails and phone calls to the Senate urging for a price on carbon to be included in the budget reconciliation package.
Our efforts are not just a balm for our climate anxiety — they are making a real impact. In early September, news broke that the Senate Finance Committee is discussing putting a price on carbon emissions. This powerful climate solution would boost the economy, unleash affordable clean energy, save lives with better air quality and give low- and middle-income families a boost via a monthly carbon cashback check. Suddenly things seem more hopeful.
As humans, it's natural to fear change, but our world is already changing. We can choose to allow climate change to keep happening to us, or we can choose to be part of the solution.
Grieving for what we've lost and fearing when the next storm or wildfire will strike are normal reactions to the time we are living through, but our actions right now can have powerful consequences.
Robert Clapham of Tigard volunteers with Portland Citizens' Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is executive director of the Portland Citizens' Lobby.
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