Voters in Washington state have the chance to do something many people only talk about: put real measures in place to fight climate change.
Voting "yes" on Initiative 732 on Washington's ballot could make it the first state in the nation to put a price on carbon pollution--the main driver of climate change.
Passage of this measure would make Washington a national and global leader in bringing people together to make real and lasting change to combat global warming.
We've been waiting decades for national climate change legislation. If we are going to make our planet safer for our children, we need to act now. While California and other East Coast states have taken bold steps with their cap and trade programs, there are other models for carbon reduction available.
Not a day goes by that we don't see climate impacts in our backyards and around the globe with devastating droughts, more violent storms and rising seas threatening our homes and birds' habitats.
For me, this is personal. I spend most of my waking hours advocating for birds and the places they need. National Audubon Society's research shows that climate change is the number one threat to North American birds. More than half the birds will lose 50 percent or more of their current ranges by 2080 unless carbon pollution is significantly reduced. Many of our favorite birds will be driven toward extinction if we do not act, including 189 species found in Washington.
Washington state's carbon initiative is the best jump start we've seen in a long time. It's a simple plan. It would speed up the shift to clean energy such as solar, wind and hydropower by increasing the price on the fossil fuels that drive up temperatures, threaten our birds and pollute our air, water, and forests.
The money the polluters pay would be returned to the pocketbooks of everyone in the state by lowering sales tax a full percent and cutting the business tax on manufacturers. That will help families and keep more jobs in Washington. And it would help low-income, working families even more with tax credits of up to $1,500 a year.
Reasonable critics say the money could be spent differently and that we ought to wait for a more perfect plan. But our kids, the birds we all love and people all along America's coastlines are all asking us to answer the most immediate question: how can we get started on a solution?
Audubon Washington Executive Director Gail Gatton summed it up best: "We realize there's a lot left to do. But to do nothing for four years, maybe more, how does that help?
"This is about our moral responsibility to our children and future generations to protect them from the adverse effects of climate change. We are already behind in the fight."
Historically, conservation doesn't have a party, particularly in the American West. With Washington residents already casting their votes, we're already determining the future.
As I travel around the country advocating for birds, people constantly ask me, "What can I do? How can one person really make a difference?"
In Washington state today, the answer is easy: Vote yes on I-732. Make Washington the first state in the nation to take real, concrete action to curb climate change by imposing a tax on polluting fossil fuels.
Our kids - and our birds - can't wait another year, or two, or four for us to act.
David Yarnold is president and CEO of the National Audubon Society.