Lawmakers must act on climate — if not for themselves, for the next generations of Americans

By Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, NextGen America President

Young people are inheriting a world in rapid decline — a decline our aged and apathetic national leadership barely seems to appreciate.

While the average U.S. senator is 63 years old, the average American is just 38, and it’s their generation and the next ones behind it who will live to see the apocalyptic future of our present reality play out.

If we do not move quickly to change the structure of our laws and the allocation of our resources, we have no future on this planet. This summer alone we’ve seen unprecedented heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest, raging fires on the West Coast and flooding in New York City. Texas, where I live, the supposed energy capital of the country, has already experienced two major power crises this year brought on by extreme weather.

The climate crisis is already here, stressing our communities and threatening our wellbeing, and it’s only going to get worse. In fact, it seems like the only place that isn’t feeling the effects of climate change is Washington, D.C., where Republican senators are still going around spouting lies and falsehoods that were debunked decades ago.

Just the other week, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin was captured on tape calling climate change “B.S.” Sen. Ted Cruz likes to say the “data is mixed” on climate change. Enough. Their rhetoric has been overrun by reality. What we need now is true political courage to address these challenges and save humanity while we still can.

And this is the moment to do it. Right now, the negotiated, bipartisan version of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan and a historic $3.5 trillion budget package are winding through Congress — and both have a pathway to passage. While the packages fall short of the climate goals outlined at the start of Biden’s term, they represent an essential down payment on solving this crisis and building a sustainable, hospitable future on this planet.

The moral and humanitarian case for action on climate have been clear for years. Now, as Democrats and Republicans inch closer to a deal on infrastructure and Democrats unite around a historic budget, the economic case for climate action is clarifying as well.

Two weeks ago, Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi released a report strongly linking the climate legislation contained in the bills with economic growth: “Greater investments in public infrastructure and social programs will lift productivity and labor force growth,” he wrote, “and the attention on climate change will help forestall its increasingly corrosive economic effects.”

For these reasons and more, the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate must get these bills across the finish line — and make for damn sure that meaningful climate priorities are included in the final versions. Many of our elected officials won’t be around to see the long-term impacts of today’s decisions, but we will be. The only thing that will last beyond their decisions are their legacies.

Americans aren’t going to look back on this moment and wonder at whether a climate bill passed with bipartisan votes. We’re not going to care whether it cleared the Senate through reconciliation or regular order.

No, we’re going to look back and see whether today’s leaders saw the burning effects of climate change all around them and decided — or refused — to act.

Mobilizing the #YouthVote across 11 states. Visit us at nextgenamerica.org to learn how you can join the fight.