Last Tuesday, America put its left foot in front of its right for the first time since the 2010 midterm election: Democrats took back control of the House of Representatives. For those who live on this planet and who will most likely be alive in 2040, this change in power is a glimmer of hope.
During Republicans’ reign in the House, little to nothing was done to actually help the environment in regards to enacting legislation. While the Climate Solutions Caucus did include 45 Republicans, their voices were muffled by the overarching message of the party: big business ranks higher than a healthy planet.
With Democrats back in control, it’s time for a paradigm shift.
Despite the blue wave manifesting itself as more of a ripple than a tsunami, the success of the Democratic Party paves the way for the United States to start making real progress with climate legislation.
On our current course, we have a little less than 22 years until we start seeing climate catastrophes at unparalleled levels. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, we have half that time to limit those catastrophes’ impacts.
If the United States’ crusade for healthcare has shown anything, it is that comprehensive large pieces of legislation take time. However, we do not have that kind of time. Climate change is not just frantically ringing the doorbell; it is barging in with a battering ram.
On Jan. 3, when Congress begins at noon, the first item on the House’s to-do list should be discussing the United States’ role in combating climate change despite the unlikelihood of a bill being passed by the Senate and signed by the president.
Since President Trump’s perilous move to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, states and cities have picked up where the federal government left off. However, despite their best efforts, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other prominent politicians do not have the ability to create U.S. policy.
Now that it’s under Democratic control, the House needs to play catch-up.
Recently, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — and the presumed future speaker of the House — said she plans to set up a select committee similar to the former House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming that operated from 2007 until 2011.
Granted, this is a start, but it is not enough. We need to try harder. We need to do more.
During the next two years, Pelosi needs to be the pragmatist that she is and realize that without a thriving, healthy planet, every other political debate is futile. In a time where we have multiple news cycles per day, issues quickly get pushed to the side in favor of other pressing topics.
This is the most pressing topic of our time. When entire cities are engulfed by rising sea levels, tax cuts will not matter. When food shortages become regular occurrences, recreational marijuana will not matter.
Climate change needs to be the primary issue on every representative’s mind.
Currently, if the House were to pass climate change legislation, it would likely fail in the Republican-controlled Senate. So, for the next two years, the entire House needs to spend every waking moment drafting revolutionary bills — essentially a modern day New Deal — ready to be voted on and enacted right after a 2020 election that brings the blue wave to the Senate and the White House.
Democrats and Republicans in the House should also work together to pass Christmas tree bills — bills initially unrelated to climate change but containing earmarked floor amendments furthering progressive climate policy. While not equivalent to a full-scale climate bill, they are a way to make change.
Pelosi and Trump have both asked for bipartisanship, and there’s no better issue to come together on than this one. While the Republican Party may not be on board, certain Republican representatives are, especially those who have seen the effects of climate change in their own states such as Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla).
Before it’s disbandment in 2011, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming convened hearings on a large range of topics related the the environment. However, they did not operate with the authority to to take legislative action on any bill or resolution. This time, we need legislative action.
When the 2020 election comes around, I’m counting on the 116th Congress to be ready for a fight. They’re our federal government’s — and our planet’s — only hope.
Catherine Buchaniec is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.