By Raechel Youngberg

Looking out my window I should be able to see the Twisp River valley unfolding below, the Channing Family Farm plots ripe with vegetables, and the Sunny Pine Farm goats happily munching away. Instead, I see a thick oppressive yellow smoke obscuring everything but the closest trees. Frequent headaches and a nagging cough have become a part of my daily life.

Life in the Pacific Northwest wasn’t always this way. I remember cold wet August nights spent car camping with my family in Newhalem and pleasant bluebird days floating the Methow River. Now massive wildfires and smoke are so common that people are beginning to call it the new normal. But there is nothing normal about what we are experiencing right now.

Fires are a natural part of the North Cascades Ecosystem, but climate change is resulting in increased frequency, severity and intensity of these wildfires. The smoke that results from the fires is dangerous to our short-term and long-term health. We are experiencing the impacts of climate change first-hand, and it’s time that we act.

I-1631, the Protect Washington Act, is a new citizen-driven initiative to impose a fee on large-scale carbon polluters that will be on the ballot this November. The fee is not directly put on taxpayers. It is on the roughly 100 largest polluters in the state, like the oil industry, and utilities that continue to exploit dirty energy sources.

It is only fair to have the corporations that have been causing the most damage start paying some of the costs. The fossil fuel industry has continuously put its profits ahead of the health of our planet even when their own scientists warned them of the consequences. Investigative journalists from Inside Climate News and The Correspondent discovered fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and Shell knew about the potentially devastating impacts of climate change for at least 40 years yet failed to release these findings to the public or change their business practices. ExxonMobil is now embroiled in a lawsuit regarding their withholding of climate science to the public.

Not only did the fossil fuel industry withhold information, it even went so far as to actively subvert and undermine public opinion on climate change science. According to the Center for International Environmental Law, ExxonMobil led an international climate deception campaign utilizing tactics it learned from tobacco industry researchers and public relations firms.

A better future

We now have the opportunity to move past the deceit campaigns and towards a clean energy future with I-1631. Seventy percent of the money from I-1631 will be used to help develop clean energy systems, clean transportation systems and energy efficient housing. The remaining 30 percent will go directly to natural resource projects around the state and helping communities’ transition away from dirty energy and towards clean energy solutions.

We are members of the last generations that can mitigate the impacts of climate change. I am tired of watching our world burn around us. I don’t want to live in a world where smoke covers the entire west coast of the United States and Canada every summer.

So I am deciding to take action. It is time to get off the couch and step away from our keyboards. If we want to ensure that our children and grandchildren have access to clean air, and clean water then we must act now before it is too late. Climate change is no longer a problem we can simply ignore and hope it fades away into the background. It is impacting your life right now as you are reading this.

So let’s take action together: vote yes on I-1631, talk about climate change with your friends and family, research ways you can reduce your carbon footprint, divest your money from fossil fuel companies and the banks that support them, carpool more, buy local and buy less stuff altogether. This is in no means a comprehensive list so do your own research on what will work best for you and your family. But it’s time we stop talking and we start acting — using our power as individuals and as citizens to take back our future. Because we’re all in this together!

Raechel Youngberg is the communications specialist for the Methow Valley Citizens Council. She studied climate change adaptation at Huxley College of the Environment and is part of the young generation of climate leaders advocating for our future.