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Our view: Back in the climate game
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Our view

Our view: Back in the climate game

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President Biden attended the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland, earlier this month in an attempt to reclaim the leadership role his predecessor abandoned. He vowed that the U.S. would “lead by example” as the world works to limit the devastating and deadly effects of out-of-control climate chaos, but that’s easier said than done — especially when there’s so much resistance to change and just so much money to be made by continuing on our present carbon-burning course.

And though many of our foreign allies welcomed his pledge — they know the vast resources our nation could employ, in terms of financial power as well as influence — some expressed their skepticism. America has been missing in action while the world burns, and there’s no guarantee that its return to the stage will last for long. The world community won’t count on the U.S. if it can’t count on the U.S.

But even though he’s fighting what may seem like insurmountable odds — with plenty of political resistance from within our own government — Biden is not helpless.

Both the infrastructure bill passed by Congress earlier this month and the Build Back Better bill passed by the U.S. House on Friday contain funds for climate-change mitigation efforts. There are measures to increase infrastructure for electric vehicles — a goal that automobile manufacturers support — money to make new construction resistant to extreme climate events and money to give young people jobs fighting climate change.

In this reasonable legislation, Biden is not alone. Many cities, counties and states, including North Carolina, are taking positive steps to deal with the inevitable.

The budget signed by Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday devotes $800 million over the next two years to disaster recovery, flood prevention and other climate-related needs. There’s money to pay for shoreline stabilization and to develop a statewide blueprint for flood resiliency.

“This budget is the first that I know of that has proactively tried to address flooding, and the impacts of climate-induced floods, both for eastern North Carolina but really beginning to think about that for the whole state,” Will McDow, the director of climate resilient coasts and watersheds for the Environmental Defense Fund, said.

But it’s not enough to just compensate for the effects of climate change. More must be done to halt and reverse the policies and practices — like promiscuously releasing carbon into the atmosphere as well as deforestation — that contribute to the greenhouse effect that’s raising our planet’s temperature and putting more climate-churning heat and moisture into the air.

No matter what else we do, if we don’t eliminate the causes of climate change, deadly and chaotic events will increase and more people will die. They include millions who die prematurely each year from particulate matter in the air. They include the victims of relentless heatwaves, like those that killed hundreds on the West Coast earlier this year. And they will lead to the extinction of millions of animal species as well as the creation of climate refugees, driven from their homes like the residents of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, which is currently sinking beneath rising ocean levels.

COP26 is useful more as a symbol than an agent of practical change. The final agreement, dubbed the Glasgow Climate Pact, calling for various types of energy drawdown, was endorsed by nearly 200 countries. More than 130 countries said they’d zero out their impact on the climate in the next half-century.

But there’s no enforcement mechanism and many countries are likely to weaken and waffle before we get there. Nations will point fingers at one another — including many toward China, which is now the world’s largest polluter and, despite early signs of cooperation, now seems reluctant to change its ways.

It’s a puzzle with a million pieces, and one that can’t be solved through virtuous volunteer efforts — a handful of people buying electric cars doesn’t make a dent. Systemic changes are required for our survival.

But those changes don’t have to be painful. Options include a well-regarded, bipartisan carbon-pricing proposal that could put money in Americans’ pockets while reducing carbon emissions. Clean-energy jobs and infrastructure could boost the economy. An enormous tree-planting enterprise that was considered during the Trump administration could be very effective and increase community cohesion and pride. We just have to do the thing — the thing at which, as COVID has proved, Americans are very bad: Face the truth and act accordingly.

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