New generation shows climate leadership

By:  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

A new generation of young leaders in New Mexico and around the world recognize that climate change is an existential threat. They are demanding that their elected leaders get to work on finding solutions to mitigate its devastating impacts. Unlike previous generations who have delayed and denied climate change, I strongly believe that this rising generation of students and activists is going to be critical catalyst for solving this issue.

Last month, I sat down with some of these young leaders in a classroom at the Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences for a discussion on how we should confront the climate crisis. I was impressed with the students’ depth of knowledge on climate science and their observations of how climate change is already impacting their daily lives. Their eagerness for action at both the local and global level gave me great hope.

The scientific consensus is clear: the destructive wildfires, catastrophic hurricanes and extreme flooding we are experiencing are directly linked to human-caused climate change. If we are going to effectively combat climate change, we must immediately change our trajectory and move toward an economy run 100 percent on clean energy.

As a trained engineer, I am confident that we already have the technical ability to do this. What we have lacked up to this point is the political will to get it done. Unfortunately, the current occupant of the White House, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and far too many of my Republican colleagues in the Senate are standing in the way of the action we need to take.

I refuse to allow us to continue down the climate deniers’ desired path of inaction that will only keep us moving toward more costly disruptions. Instead, I am focused on implementing real solutions to eliminate our carbon pollution. We need to put a price on carbon. I have also introduced legislation to incentivize widespread deployment of carbon-cutting technologies — like wind, solar, energy storage and electric vehicles — across our entire power, transportation, and building sectors.

I am proud that New Mexico isn’t waiting for federal policies to get to work on climate action. Our new Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and our state legislators just passed sweeping legislation to move our state’s electrical power production to 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2045. I was proud to welcome the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s recent announcement that they plan to get to that ambitious goal by 2040.

We need international cooperation and national-scale policies to follow New Mexico’s lead if we want to move fast enough to stop the worst effects of climate change. I recently joined the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, which in the coming months will work to advance concrete federal climate policy proposals and provide oversight on special interests that are standing in the way of the actions we need to take.

Moving toward a clean, carbon-free future is not only imperative to meeting our climate goals. This transition also represents our greatest opportunity to create millions of new jobs all across America — particularly in our rural communities. Wind technician and solar installer are already two of the fastest growing jobs in the nation.

Climate change often feels too big and too hard to fix. But the scientific fact is: we have created this crisis — and the rapid development of technologies to reduce and eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels — means that it is within our power to fix it. Talking with young people who are calling on us to save their future drives home how urgent the climate crisis is for our next generation.

I see a future where the students I met with in Santa Fe and my two boys will use an electric grid that is 100 percent powered by clean energy, travel around in electric vehicles and live in homes built, heated and cooled with carbon-free technologies. I am certain that our energetic, new generation of climate leaders will be key to powering us into this clean energy future.