Opinion

Investing in Infrastructure Means Combating Climate Change

The Senate may consider a bipartisan infrastructure package as soon as this week. The proposal would devote $1.2 trillion to infrastructure over eight years, $579 billion of which would represent new spending.

It includes a few climate-related provisions, including $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and another $7.5 billion to electrify public transit systems.

This funding is a welcome sign that both parties recognize the need to protect the environment. But as the record heatwave in the western United States and a hurricane season shaping up to be the most active ever shows, it’s not enough.

Climate change threatens the very viability of traditional physical infrastructure. If we limit our infrastructure ambitions to roads, bridges and the like, we’ll end up watching helplessly as extreme weather, rising sea levels and more prevalent wildfires destroy the things we build almost as soon as we finish building them.

We have a personal stake in this fight. Climate change poses an existential threat to our way of life.

Our families own or operate shellfish farms and hatcheries on opposite sides of the country — one in Maine, the other in Alaska. Collectively, we employ dozens of people. If small businesses like ours were to go under, the repercussions would stretch deep into our communities. Owners, employees, suppliers and customers would all suffer.

Our businesses are among the 250 members of the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition, a group of shellfish farmers, restaurants, caterers, wholesalers and vendors in 24 states. Together, we advocate for action that will reduce carbon emissions and reverse climate change.

Our members are experiencing extreme negative consequences of climate change right now. Over the past few weeks, record heat in the Pacific Northwest has killed countless shellfish and potentially ruined an entire season’s crop for some growers.

For years, increasing carbon dioxide levels have been changing seawater chemistry and threatening the ability of shellfish to make their shells. More frequent and intense storms are destroying piers, buildings and equipment. Heavy runoff events can disrupt harvesting.

Pathogens that kill shellfish or threaten consumer safety thrive in warmer waters. We must now take extra, more costly steps to ensure our shellfish are safe to eat.

We do our best to confront these challenges, but the costs are mounting.

You don’t need to be a shellfish farmer to know that climate change is real — and costly. A 2019 report by Environmental Protection Agency scientists estimated that unchecked carbon emissions could cost the U.S. economy at least $224 billion more annually by 2090. A recent report by the nonpartisan Institute for Policy Integrity predicts that global economic damages from climate change will reach $1.7 trillion per year by 2025, and roughly $30 trillion per year by 2075, if current warming trends continue.

The cost can’t be measured in dollars alone. The United Nations found that major natural disasters killed 1.23 million people worldwide from 2000-2019. During that period, there were 80 percent more climate-related disasters than in the previous 20 years. In the United States, the EPA expects an additional 9,300 heat-related deaths every year that carbon emissions continue at current rates.

By prioritizing investment in clean energy, Congress can meet these challenges head on and help save farms like ours threatened by climate change. Federal dollars can bring carbon capture technology and advanced battery and energy storage technology to market. Investments in nature-based solutions can make our infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather, drought, flooding and wildfires.

Reducing carbon emissions will also create job opportunities for American workers. Employment in the solar industry will double over the next 10 years to an estimated 400,000 workers. We’ll need people to improve our electric grid as we transition to more clean energy sources; to make our homes, schools and businesses more resistant to severe weather; and to build and maintain electric vehicles and charging stations.

These are good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced. And who knows what other economic opportunities federal investment in clean energy could bring about — possibilities we can’t even fathom today?

We have to think bigger than the “traditional” definition of infrastructure. To build truly durable infrastructure that will last for generations, we must address the root causes of climate change — and make investments that reduce carbon emissions. Our businesses, and countless others like ours, are counting on it.

Bill Mook is the owner of Mook Sea Farm in Walpole, Maine, and Jeff Hetrick is director of the Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute in Seward, Alaska. Both are members of the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition.

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