Here’s something for Congress to consider, if they can read it through the smoke from the fires out west that has made East Coast air unhealthy: There’s the climate crisis, then there is every other problem.

Rising temperatures across the planet already are causing catastrophic events surprising in their scope and intensity, costing dearly in money, lives and livelihood, and forcing scientists to rethink just how bad things will get if we keep using fossil fuels.

Every delay in meeting that goal just makes matters worse. Republicans largely have refused to act. Democrats, with a majority in Washington, have a fleeting chance to make a difference, and they cannot waste it.

Otherwise, things are only going to get worse — if nothing is done, human-caused climate change will make sure we look back on this year as a relatively cool one. As researchers have indicated for decades, summers will become increasingly unbearable, and winters not cold enough, upsetting our lives and the natural world around us in ways most of us can’t even imagine.

We’ve seen those predictions come true in front of our eyes. In Maine alone, populations of ticks and lobsters have moved in response to the changing climate, and longstanding winter celebrations have been canceled, over and over again, for lack of ice.

Scarier, though, are the effects scientists haven’t fully seen coming, such as the recent heat wave in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, which wiped out marine life, killed hundreds of people and set the conditions for massive wildfires.

The heat wave was much hotter than predicted, and in an area scientists didn’t expect, because the models they use don’t account for some of the more dramatic effects of the climate crisis, such as the “heat dome.”

But now that it’s happened in the Pacific Northwest, of all places, we have to think it can happen anywhere. And as the planet continues to warm, it’ll happen a lot more.

Even with today’s temperatures, a heat wave like that is a once-in-a-millennium event, one well-regarded analysis said. But in 40 or 50 years, they will become fairly commonplace.

An analysis of the heatwave found that it could not have happened without climate change. Put another way, a heatwave under those conditions would not have happened prior to the industrial era, when humankind began polluting the environment with fossil fuels.

We have the tools to take a significant amount of fossil fuel out of our system, now, in the next decade, as we work toward net zero emissions by 2050 — the target that needs to be hit to avoid the worst effects of rising temperatures.

More will have to be done after that, but we have to start now with the technology and strategies we have, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy to power our houses and transportation.

Democrats and Republicans are now negotiating an infrastructure deal that makes some investments in electric vehicles, public transit and clean energy — but not nearly enough, as a result of GOP objections.

The next big climate fight is between Democrats over the budget reconciliation package, which is expected to include many more of President Biden’s goals on reducing emissions.

Republicans are unlikely to give any support to that bill, and Democrats don’t need them — they can pass it with just their 50 senators through reconciliation.

Here, Democrats have to meet the moment. They have to pass legislation that seriously addresses all facets of climate change and sets the U.S. on a clear path toward zero emissions.

Such a switch will require significant investment, and some changes to our lives.

But that’s nothing compared to the cost of inaction, or the upheaval climate change will bring to our world.

President Biden recently called climate change “the existential crisis of our time.” He’s right.

Now, let’s act like it.


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