During the last two years, climate change has taken the back seat. Between the looming threat of nuclear war, children being put in cages, and rampant transphobia in the White House, it’s no surprise that carbon emissions aren’t at the forefront of people’s minds. However, with the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords and the Trump Administration’s complete neglect of the issue, the deadline for global catastrophe is only moving up.
On Tuesday, Washington state voters had a chance to change the direction of U.S. climate policy with a carbon tax ballot-measure, but they failed to pass it.
Initiative 1631 proposed a tax of $15 per metric ton of carbon; the tax would increase by $2 every year until Washington reached its goal of 25% less emissions than during the 1990s. The money generated by the tax would be invested in communities and the environment: the majority would go towards clean air and energy, and the rest of the money would be divided between building healthy communities and clean water. Initiative 1631 also took into account the burden of climate change on the poor: 15% of the clean air and energy fund would be used to help low-income consumers transition to clean energy, and $12 million would be set aside to aid the shift away from fossil fuels.
The threat that Initiative 1631 posed towards dirty energy was great enough that it resulted in the largest ballot-measure spending in Washington state history. The opposition, funded by the oil industry, spent $31 million on the No to 1631 campaign—nearly twice that of the supporting side, who spent only $16 million. Most of the money against the ballot-measure came from large corporations like Koch Industries, Chevron, and BP. Sadly, the endorsement of hundreds of business and organisations, including over 80 environmental organisations, couldn’t overcome the oil industry’s misinformation and fear campaign.
Unfortunately, Washington’s climate failure is consistent with national attitudes on both Republican and Democratic sides. While Republican politicians, such as Trump and Florida Governor Rick Scott, have explicitly denied climate change, Democratic leaders have failed prioritize the issue.
However, hope still lies with local leaders, as several governors have pledged to work towards clean energy. Governor Stephen Sisolak of Nevada stated in a campaign ad, “I am fully supportive of the ballot proposal to our renewable energy to 50% by 2030. In fact, as governor, I’d like to get us on the road to 100%!” Currently, 17 governors are members of the United States Climate Alliance, which encourages states to take up the mantle of the Paris Climate Agreement and take action to cut their emissions.
But without a strong national policy, the United States—the world’s second largest CO2 polluter—is headed straight for catastrophe.