Opinion Pieces

Fifty Years of Climate Change

Washington, February 4, 2015
Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Baines Johnson became the first President to speak about the dangers of climate change in an iconic environmental address to the nation. He spoke of the need for “a new conservation,” whose object was “not just man’s welfare but the dignity of man’s spirit.” And he warned of the dangers of climate change: “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

Half a century later, LBJ’s “Special Message to Congress on Conservation and Restoration of Natural Beauty” is even more salient. We need to address the sober consequences of our national energy policy and enact an aggressive, forward-looking blueprint for fighting global climate change.

The news is not all bad. Those five decades saw remarkable progress in protecting our air, land, and water. But we must also admit that we have not done enough.

Americans are already suffering the devastating consequences of climate change due to hurricanes, floods, droughts and other instances of extreme weather. The world’s five largest natural catastrophes of 2014 all were within the United States. In all, extreme weather events triggered over $110 billion in losses and almost 7,000 fatalities.

I ran for Congress last year urging voters to join me in the fight for pro-climate policies like a national carbon tax. Just five weeks into this new Congress, I voted against construction of the Keystone pipeline and will join my colleague from across the (increasingly clean!) river, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, as a primary cosponsor of his thoughtful bill to enact a national carbon tax.

I am excited to serve on the House Committee on Natural Resources, as well as the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. As the Natural Resources Committee considers legislation about energy production, mineral rights and mining, fisheries and wildlife, public lands, and oceans, I will fight to protect and conserve our precious resources without sacrificing the security of the middle class. As the Science Committee considers legislation about aeronautical engineering, space exploration, and non-military research and development, I will eagerly support the innovation that will shape the next half-century, as we work to combat the crisis of climate change and create a new American economy.

Fifty years after President Johnson’s address, we cannot ignore this opportunity to reevaluate and recommit ourselves to the fight against climate change. It is the responsibility of this Congress to promote sustainable energy technology programs and encourage states to do the same.

Fifty years after President Johnson’s speech, the great challenge of our time is crafting visionary environmental and conservation policies to address global climate change. How we meet this challenge will be our legacy. Please join me in my impatience and work with my staff and me as we push forward.