We have no other choice.

Summer Dean is from Brush Prairie, Washington. She is entering her fourth and final year in the environmental studies program at Portland State University. Summer believes that climate change is the biggest problem our species will ever face. Our natural systems are unraveling, and many communities are already suffering around the world. She cares about climate change action because not only is it necessary for our survival, but it presents an opportunity for us all to unite on a common issue and transform our society into something better than we could ever imagine. She sees climate change action not just as a response to suffering but an opportunity to fix the broken, oppressive system that caused this crisis in the first place. She is working with Our Climate this fall because we need a rapid transformation of our energy system, one that requires effective climate policies like Washington’s Initiative 1631.


When I think of the word ‘energy’, the first characteristics that come to my mind are strength, vitality, and renewal. Energy is the essential core of all living things on earth, giving way to new life, food, power and light. Energy from the sun forms the basis of almost every single ecosystem on our planet, allowing us to perform basic life functions which we often take for granted. Energy gives earth a sense of vibrancy, intricacy, and spirit that no other planet in our universe has to offer. For millennia, all life on earth has fulfilled its energy needs solely from the sun, the most powerful renewable resource we know of. Even us, yes, we humans, relied on this primal source of energy to power our societies until the industrial revolution.

When I think of fossil fuels, the first characteristics that come to my mind are weakness, destruction, and extraction. In no way does this form of ‘energy’ align with my initial thoughts about energy stated above. Our unhealthy, status-quo dependence on fossil fuels for modern energy use is anything but modern. Fossil fuels tear apart communities and fill their air with toxins. They fill our atmosphere to the brim with carbon. This has already begun to destabilize ecosystems, weather patterns, and food systems across the the globe. They threaten the well-being of our children and grandchildren. Most of all, they threaten the very existence of our species. The costs of tearing apart the earth for oil and burning carbon into the atmosphere far outweigh the few benefits, which are only felt short term by the wealthy few who benefit from this destructive industry. Not only do the wealthy few benefit, they profit off the backs of the oppressed and the poor, who are already feeling the worst effects of climate change. We cannot and we must not continue along this path of societal and planetary destruction. Leaving climate action up to individuals to “do the right thing” will never work in our current profit driven economic system. This is why I believe in putting a price on carbon. Just like we pay fees to send our waste to the dump, a carbon tax puts a fee on the largest industry polluters who continue to use the atmosphere as an endless dumping ground and have not yet made the transition to clean energy.

People always ask me why young people like me are so charged and passionate about climate change and carbon policy. The answer to that is simple, and it’s that we have no other choice. Young people are fighting for their lives, and that is no hyperbole. I believe, with effective carbon tax policy like Washington state’s Initiative 1631, that we as humans can sail past this small moment in time that has implications for the rest of human history. Just like previous technological revolutions that changed the course of human history, like the invention of the cell phone, our society will quickly adapt to and thrive from the renewable energy revolution. In her book Silent Spring, which sparked the environmental movement in the 70’s and a nationwide ban on the harmful pesticide DDT, Rachel Carson said the following about the widespread use of toxic pesticides in the United States:

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road- the one less traveled by- offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”

Rachel Carson’s words foretold a need for societal change, and are eerily relevant to our climate crisis today. Adaptation and innovation is no longer a choice, but a moral obligation and a method of survival. Climate change presents the biggest opportunity we’ve had in history to transform our society into one that empowers those who have been historically oppressed, and to closely align our energy system with earth’s resilient, regenerative, closed loop system. It’s never too late to act. Our first step must be to put a price on carbon.


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