Gov. Jay Inslee signs into law a carbon-cap program and a clean-fuels standard

FILE — With supporters surrounding him, Gov. Jay Inslee signs into law a carbon-cap program and a clean-fuels standard at Shoreline Community College on Monday, May 17, 2021.

The science is undeniable, and the signs are unmistakable.

Our decades of relying on carbon-based fuels to power industry and quick trips to the store have come back to bite us.

It’s time to hit the brakes on carbon.

Climate change is causing dramatically more severe weather across our region and the rest of the world — unprecedented wildfires, devastating droughts and floods, overheated oceans and freshwater streams and of course, less breathable air.

The debate has moved well past whether climate change is real or human-caused. The matter at hand is whether we can stop it from getting any worse.

More to the point: How do we pay for the possible solutions?

The federal $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan, currently under intense debate on Capitol Hill, is a start. Among other things, it includes incentives for electric vehicles, energy-efficient buildings and upgrades to America’s energy grid. It also sets a clean-energy standard and establishes border taxes on carbon imported from nations with lax climate-change policies.

But it will take more than that.

Perhaps the most plausible and equitable strategy is one that is endorsed by a who’s who of more than 3,600 top U.S. economists, and numerous citizen groups and municipalities, including Yakima: putting a price on carbon emissions.

Yakima representatives of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which has 450 chapters worldwide, insist that carbon pricing is the most effective way to rein in runaway climate change without disrupting the economy.

Earlier this year, Washington state approved an aggressive carbon pricing program of its own. The law kicks in within two years, and it’s expected to raise $460 million in revenue by the end of fiscal year 2023 and affect 75% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Essentially, the idea of carbon pricing is to make polluting more expensive while providing economic benefits to energy innovators and economic relief to most American households. Carbon fees collected from the biggest emitters would help pay for the development of energy alternatives and energy rebates for the majority of private citizens.

Given that Congress can hardly agree on whether to pay the debts it’s run up in the past few years, we have our doubts that any form of carbon pricing will end up in the reconciliation bill.

But as politicians wrangle over the shape and size of the final package, we hope some of them will have the sense to take a thoughtful, nonpartisan look at carbon pricing before they blindly cast votes.

If we have any chance of meeting President Joe Biden’s goals of cutting carbon emissions in half in the next decade and reducing them to net zero by 2050, we can’t keep putting this off.

Yes, it’s time to hit the brakes on carbon emissions. But as energy alternatives emerge, it doesn’t mean we have to hit the brakes on the economy — or even our lifestyles.