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We cannot wait for climate action

clark-col-sigIn January, Maryland Dels. Lorig Charkoudian and David Fraser-Hidalgo and Sen. Ben Kramer announced a bill that would put a price on pollution and fund education and renewable energy. The proposal would charge a fee on fossil fuels at their first point of entry into the state, which may affect the price of products that are reliant on oil, gas, and petroleum.

I expect this to be the battle cry of the bill’s opponents this spring: It will cost businesses money and create higher prices for consumers. However, that narrative ignores the fact that we are already paying a much greater price for fossil fuels than what is displayed at the time of purchase.

In my lifetime, I have seen nine of the 10 hottest years ever recorded. The tenth, 1998, concluded just two months before my birthday. I cannot pretend that the earth isn’t warming and that we aren’t facing drastic temperature changes that will have far-reaching and devastating effects. Each year, the evidence becomes more abundant and the cost in human and animal life rises.

Why has it taken us so long to definitively act?

I did not choose to be born into a world reliant on fossil fuels. None of us did. Even if we could go back in time and change the course of history, I’m not sure that we would. The Industrial Revolution brought us a century of progress and innovation, and it was driven in large part by our ability to harvest fuel from the ground and create plastic, gasoline, and electricity.

However, that era is over, and it is time for us to move forward. We know now that burning fossil fuels propels global climate change, causing ever-stronger natural disasters, famine-inducing droughts and floods, lost productivity, and health complications like asthma, heart disease, and dementia.

We cannot choose to hold on to our rose-tinted view of fossil fuels as a driver of economic progress when their costs are piling up.

Taxpayers have already paid millions to remedy the damage caused by climate change as we work to repair failing infrastructure, recover from natural disasters, and bear rising health care costs. A polluter fee will shift this cost from the average Marylander to the producers responsible for bringing fossil fuels into the state.

Once the external cost is accounted for in the supply chain, fossil fuel consumption and related product use will ultimately decrease, driving critical clean-energy innovation and preparing us to reach net-zero emissions by 2040.

We cannot continue to talk about how we are going to tackle the amorphous beast of climate change. We do not have time to parse the intricacies of this and that. Our oceans are warming, our land is burning, and our economy is faltering.

This bill is a stimulus for change that will carry us into a future of renewable energy and position Maryland to grow thousands of clean-energy jobs while investing in our families and public education. The Climate Crisis and Education Act is a way forward, a lifeline in a harrowing climate crisis.

Julia Clark, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park, is the leader of a student advocacy group dedicated to responding to climate change.