You may have noticed that it’s hot.

Temperatures topped 90 in usually cool Maine last week, combined with high humidity that made it feel much hotter.

“Last time I checked, Maine isn’t supposed to be so hot,” noted Michael Smith, a homeless man taking refuge in a cooling center in Portland.

Smith needs to check again. Maine, along with the rest of the world, is getting hotter. As we move toward the year 2100, summers in Maine will start to look like summers in 20th-century Maryland, the kind of weather that caused people down there to pack up their families and escape to Maine.

We know it’s getting hotter and we know why. Burning coal, oil and gas has put heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, a process that is accelerating as more of the world industrializes.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change didn’t leave any wiggle room in its latest report: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” reads the first finding in its comprehensive review that represents the work of thousands of scientists.

And it doesn’t leave any of the usual question marks around the role of human activity in specific weather events.

Scientists now have the tools to see evidence of human-caused climate change in heat waves, torrential rain, droughts and wildfires.

We know this is happening, and we know it’s going to get worse. But what are we going to do about it?

On paper, it’s simple: We need to generate all of our electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar. And we need to use electricity for everything that we now burn oil or gas to power.

In the real world, that’s going to take millions of people in both the public and private sectors building the infrastructure to generate and transmit much more electricity than we currently produce, while making millions of electric cars and home heating systems, not to mention the new factories, trucks, trains and ships that would be needed in a carbon free world.

It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to happen without the steady hand of government guiding a decades-long process filled with hard tradeoffs and treacherous pitfalls at every step.

And that’s the point when it sounds hopeless, because in America government means politics.

Again, on paper, it’s simple: Since most of the climate spending was stripped out of the bipartisan infrastructure deal that passed the Senate last week, there is only one bill in Congress with a hope of passing that would commit to the kind of transformative change the moment demands. That’s the $3.5 trillion budget package under construction in the U.S. Senate.

Because of obscure intersecting Senate rules, this bill would not be subject to a filibuster, but it also means that it’s the only bill that could pass with a simple majority vote this year – maybe even in this Congress.

The climate part of the package features a “clean energy standard” for electric utilities that would reward them for making progress toward decarbonization and penalize those that don’t. It’s similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which Maine has belonged to since 2007, but it would be funded by a tax on corporations instead of a surcharge on electric consumers.

This is not the Green New Deal – the gold standard for progressive climate activists. And it’s not the market-based carbon fee and dividend proposal favored by the Citizens Climate Lobby and others. But it’s the only bill that’s got a chance this year and maybe for a long time to come.

Remember “cap and trade”? That was the last economy-wide climate policy legislation to have a chance in Washington.

At various times it had bipartisan support. Barack Obama and John McCain both ran for president in 2008 promising versions of the idea.

A bill barely passed the House in 2009 in the face of fierce lobbying by the fossil fuel industry but was never called up for a vote in the Senate, which, at the time, was controlled by Democrats. When Republicans took the House in 2010, riding the anti-science tea party wave, the door shut for a decade.

The U.N. climate report says it would take a heroic effort to meet the Paris climate goals of 1.5 degree Celsius of warming since preindustrial times, and we would still face life-threatening heat waves, droughts, forced migration and extinction of species. With every additional degree of warming, the consequences get more serious and harder to reverse.

We don’t have another decade to wait for coherent climate policy to come out of Washington.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s hot, and it’s going to get worse.


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