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Opinion: What my generation is facing — A high schooler’s take on the climate crisis

We are seeing the hottest summer temperatures on record. We are experiencing years on years of drought. Yet we aren’t surprised anymore. That needs to change

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The dry lakebed of the Great Salt Lake is exposed during a drought where the lake is at record low levels.

The Antelope Island marina is dried up as the Great Salt Lake experiences record low water levels on Friday, July 22, 2022. Climate change needs policy action from our leaders and representatives.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

On July 17, Salt Lake City met the record for the highest summer temperature in recorded history, and by the time you read this that record may very well be broken.

We’re heading into the depth of a scorching summer with a worrying lack of clarity: Today, 99% of Utah is under either extreme or severe drought levels, with eight of the last 10 years being classified as drought years. We’ve become so desensitized to statistics like these in Utah and the West that heat waves and droughts barely register as policy issues, slipping under the radar of a rapidly metastasizing climate disaster. Eastern Utah has reported a temperature change over the last century triple that of the global temperature increase.

As a high school student, my generation is facing a steep collapse in livability. 

The uniquely gorgeous landscape that fosters our state’s draw, both economically and for new Utahns, is under sustained threat from the unmitigated onset of climate change. While most of our policymakers now thankfully believe that climate change is a legitimate threat and needs a solution, they have been largely unable to respond successfully, and changes in government can seem singularly hopeless. 

And as hard as it is to stomach, individual action is not enough. While solar panels and electric cars are important in many ways,  the impact they have on global warming is minuscule. Climate scientist Michael Mann brings up the long history of industry-based deflection campaigns on carbon emissions, offloading the responsibility for action on the environment to voters instead of politicians.

By suggesting that solving climate change is an individual fight, we avoid pinning the consequences on those who bear a disproportionate amount of the responsibility. Policy solutions at the broadest level are necessary, and federal action is one of the few significant steps we as voters can advocate for. 

The breadth of political solutions to the climate crisis can be overwhelming, too, with mixed signals on viability and impact. The recent revival of a climate deal with remarkably broad implications, particularly on the development of green infrastructure, is a breath of fresh air that indicates a hopeful growth in political capital for federal carbon solutions.

To suggest that it is enough, though, is misguided: a true solution must not be solely mitigating but also addressing.

The root cause of the crisis is still unresolved. But of these policy solutions, a carbon fee and dividend would be uniquely effective: by setting a tax on mass carbon emissions at the site of their production and then distributing the revenue from that tax back in a monthly dividend to all Americans. 

This check on the rise of both income inequality and climate inequity promotes a national shift towards justice in public policy, with remarkable projected efficacy. A study from REMI projects that a carbon fee and dividend with a fairly moderate initial price would lower CO2 50% below 1990 levels in twenty years.

This solution is neither controversial nor partisan — Sen. Mitt Romney has endorsed a carbon fee and dividend while Reps. John Curtis and Blake Moore as members of the Climate Solutions Caucus are working on solutions.  

Utah’s activists and economists see this solution as singularly clear and effective. But without public support, little momentum can be built. To preserve what makes us love our home, implore your representatives from the inbox to the ballot box to endorse a carbon fee and dividend in Congress.

Cash Mendenhall is a junior at West High School and an intern for the Salt Lake City chapter of Citizen’s Climate Lobby.