Unprecedented, epic, historic, calamitous, pick the superlative but it still does not adequately describe the destructive flooding in Fort Smith and the River Valley over the last few weeks. Will this experience wake us up to the fact that human-caused climate change is amplifying severe weather and thus putting lives, property, businesses at ongoing risk?

Many will say this is not the time to talk about climate change.”  Certainly, the current impetus is rightly on recovering and rebuilding businesses and lives impacted by the flooding and on uniting to relieve suffering. However, I also sincerely hope that recent flooding will serve to empower individuals to start talking about climate change.

Now is the time to begin to make response to the climate crisis a top priority, so that we can avoid its worst effects in the years to come.

Last fall, the National Climate Assessment warned of the type of severe weather we have been experiencing in our region. Simply put the increased warming of the global atmospheric systems brought about by increased carbon pollution is providing amplification of extreme weather events. Warmer air can hold more water vapor which leads to more intense precipitation events. We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Urgent changes are needed to cut the risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty, says IPCC.

However, with many public officials statewide and nationally not robustly facing the climate emergency, it is up to everyday citizens to speak up and advocate for effective action.

What to speak up for? Bold bipartisan action is key. One example is the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019 (H.R. 763). This legislation currently has 50 co-sponsors.

It places a rising fee on fossil fuel companies based on each ton of carbon dioxide which would be emitted from the burning of these energy sources. The fee rises annually, thus providing clarity for businesses and investors. It incentivizes innovation and a steady bottom-line-protecting shift to lower or non-polluting energy sources.  The fees collected are returned to American families as a monthly dividend. Imagine! Fossil fuel companies pay for polluting and are incentivized to change their ways and citizens get money in their pockets to spend as they see fit! A border adjustment protects U.S. business and jobs.

Groups as diverse as Trout Unlimited, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action and the Nature Conservancy have issued supportive statements about this bill.

Recent polling released by Luntz Global, a conservative polling group, shows that the American people, across party lines, support the market-based, non-regulatory approach of a carbon fee and dividend type proposal to deal responsibly deal with climate change.

Specifically the poll showed 4-1 support overall, 2-1 GOP support and 75% support from Republicans under 40. By a margin of more than 8 to 1, American voters are more worried about climate change now than they were just one year ago.

In addition, the results indicated that concern about climate change is increasing in both parties, 60% of voters want Congress to take a new approach and 4 out of 5 of voters want Congress to put politics aside and reach a bipartisan solution.

H.R. 763 gives an effective, politically viable solution to get behind. This legislation that will cut carbon pollution by 40% below 2016 levels in 12 years and by 90% by 2050 without new regulations. That means cleaner air, and with emissions falling our climate would begin to stabilize. Innovation and the dividend will drive job growth and protect working and middle class families during the transition to a cleaner economy.

We only wait for Congress to act.

Call your Congressman: Steve Womack ((202) 225-4301); Bruce Westerman ((202) 225-3772); Rick Crawford ((202) 225-4076); or French Hill ((202) 225-2506) and let them know we need action on climate and that their support of the Energy Innovation Action will help safeguard Arkansans.

One way or the other carbon pollution is being paid for. We can continue to bear the burden for these large-scale disasters and their expensive recovery programs. Or take a proactive approach and have fossil fuel companies pay in modest, increasing amounts as outlined in the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividends Act of 2019, while American citizens receive a monthly dividend. Such a policy could be implemented in months.

Will this recent flood surpasses description wake us up? We are rapidly reaching the point where it may be impossible to stabilize our climate system. Speak up for bold climate action today.

Climatologist Robert McAfee of Hackett is co-founder of Arkansas Citizens’ Climate Lobby in Arkansas. CCL is a national volunteer network, building the political will for a livable world and working toward implementation of CCL’s carbon fee and dividend proposal. (www.citizensclimatelobby or info@arkccl.org). To participate in the Times Record’s Community Matters series, email Executive Editor Mardi Taylor, mtaylor@swtimes.com.