Op Ed by Steve Valk in the Press-Citizen, August 18, 2016
“Gotta run. There’s a rumble down the street,” my eldest son, Cameron, says. He bolts out the door, cell phone in hand.
I flash back to his high school performance in “West Side Story.” But Cameron isn’t rushing to connect with the Sharks or Jets — he’s heading out to confront trainers wielding Golbat and Pidgeot.
Welcome to the world of Pokemon Go, the mobile app based on the cards, TV show and video games that dominated kid culture back when millennials were growing up in the 1990s. Unless you’ve been stranded on Mars, you can’t help noticing the phenomenon that has swept the world in a matter of weeks, as players wander streets and parks chasing down the coveted characters.
The king of all Pokemon, of course, is the iconic Pikachu: a yellow, pointy-eared creature with the power to cause taser-like paralysis using “static” (I’m guessing he’s especially dangerous in carpeted rooms). Pikachu was the main character in the anime TV show and has been the face of the Pokemon franchise ever since.
What many don’t realize, though, is that a real-life Pikachu — sans static power — can be found out West. Called the American pika, this small, rabbit-like animal has a bark that sounds like the squeak from a doggy chew toy. After viewing a short video, I declared it the cutest mammal on the planet.
But the most lovable rodent since Mickey Mouse now faces a foe more formidable than Charizard: climate change.
You see, the pika lives in high-elevation, mountainous habitats, where it relies upon a fairly heavy coat of fur to protect against the cold. That coat, however, makes it susceptible to overheating in summer months. Pika can die if their body temperature increases by as little as 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit; exposure to six hours of temperatures that we’d consider fairly comfortable — 77 degrees — can be lethal. What’s more, climate change is disrupting the growth cycles of local vegetation, which limits the amount of food the pika can store for the winter.
If climate change is left unchecked, rising temperatures will make the pika’s home uninhabitable by this uniquely American species. And the pika has lots of company — a study published in the journal Science last year predicts that one in six species could be wiped out if current climate trends continue. In 2014, the National Audubon Society released a shocking study that revealed nearly half the bird species in North America face extinction by 2080, primarily because of climate change.
So how do we keep Earth’s thermostat from going haywire and help our animal friends stay alive?
First, we must reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases — mainly carbon dioxide and methane — that are trapping heat in our atmosphere. To do this, we can enlist the power of the marketplace to reduce those emissions by placing a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels. A study from Regional Economic Models, Inc. shows that a fee on carbon increasing $10 per ton each year will reduce CO2 emissions by 52 percent within 20 years.
Amazingly, we can do all this while actively improving the American economy. Returning all net revenue from the carbon fee to households in equal shares — a policy known as Carbon Fee and Dividend — would put more spending money in American pockets, adding some 2.8 million jobs. It’s a win for workers and the environment alike.
In a moment akin to Babe Ruth calling his shot at the 1932 World Series, Citizens’ Climate Lobby has declared that Congress will pass a revenue-neutral carbon fee bill by the end of 2017. As many in the GOP rediscover the conservationist ethic of Theodore Roosevelt, the prospects for such legislation grow better and better.
The slogan for Pokemon, as millions of enthusiasts know, is “Gotta catch ’em all.” Those who are working to check the ravages of climate change and protect species like the American Pika might adopt a similar slogan: “Gotta save ’em all.”
Steve Valk is communications director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.