Guest Opinion: Proposal maps solutions for our climate and our future

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Debra Heffernan is a Democrat representing Bellefonte in the House of Representatives and serves as chair of the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee. Sophie Phillips is a Democrat representing Bear in the House and serves as vice chair of the committee.

In 1970, the first Earth Day celebration was held. That first year, millions of Americans gathered within their neighborhoods and communities on April 22 and conducted cleanups, demonstrations and other activities — many of which are still held annually to honor the day.

But that first Earth Day also marked a rising American awareness regarding our planet’s fragility. People could see clearly then what some seemingly struggle to see (or willingly acknowledge) today: All of the modern-day advancements, triumphs and booming industrial growth that has benefited the country financially has come with a cost.

And that cost, or “bounty” as famed CBS anchor Walter Cronkite once said, has deadly byproducts, including “fouled skies, filthy waters and littered earth.” Cronkite’s remarks came during a special broadcast about that inaugural Earth Day.

The rising amount of carbon dioxide is easily attributed to human activity, as our average atmospheric concentration of it is now above 410 parts per million, compared to 325 in 1970 and 280 before the Industrial Revolution.

It’s time to address this crisis, as the impacts of carbon dioxide to our environment and the resulting changes to the planet’s climate know no geographic boundary, and all Delawareans should appreciate our unique vulnerability. Our state’s location and low elevation provide the perfect place for sea level rise to manifest with devastation.

We’ve worked with Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, to sponsor the Climate Solutions Act, which would set net emissions reduction targets for Delaware by 2030 (50%) and 2050 (100%), and codify a planning process to guide Delaware in meeting those goals. The act will serve as a plan for state agencies to follow, directing the agencies to consider greenhouse gas emissions and prescribing what actions any state agency should take to reduce emissions.

The science is clear. We must reduce our emissions by this amount if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Our wonderous planet is able to remove greenhouse gases naturally, recovering from damage and injury to its environment. However, the more gases that are added, the bigger and longer that recovery effort becomes. The planet’s ability to heal itself is just as wonderous as our human ability to heal from a break, strain or other injury.

Our injured Earth needs our help. Just as we might aid the body’s natural healing process by reducing or limiting activity detrimental in recovery, so, too, must we reduce and/or limit mankind’s activity proven to be detrimental to the planet.

To take it further, in some cases, medication is prescribed to mitigate an injury’s lasting impact. For Delaware, the Climate Solutions Act provides “medication,” if you will. These additional and actionable steps are realistic, responsible, achievable and, most importantly, tangible.

The bill isn’t a mandate for individuals or businesses in Delaware. It is the state’s prescribed plan to require our state agencies to consider climate change in decision-making, rulemaking and procurement. In other words, these are statutory targets. Everything done at a state level would be done in a way that would be proactive in aiding our environment with its own healing. These changes to what we do and how we do things at a state level will ultimately assist in balancing the scales, building on not only our past environmental progress but also reaffirming our responsibility and continuing commitment to a positive path forward.

Action-based changes to our fragile environment won’t come quickly, but we mustn’t be swayed from making them, as history has proven. Take, for example, lead-based gasoline. During the mid-20th century, leaded gas was identified as one of the primary sources of airborne lead pollution. Regulation aimed at reducing the nation’s growing smog problem involved phasing out lead from gasoline production in the 1970s. As a result, airborne lead levels plummeted.

The Climate Solutions Act is Delaware’s prescription for doing our part to assist our injured planet. Not only will it provide the path for shrinking the state’s carbon footprint, but it will also ensure we’re creating a sustainable future — creating jobs, cleaning the air, improving public health and building our economy.

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