03/15/2013 03:29 pm ET | Updated May 15, 2013

Moving Towards a Clean Energy Economy

Climate change is the challenge of our generation, and Congress must act.

First, let's accept the facts: Climate change is real. It is caused by humans. It must be confronted. And it is solvable.

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2012 experienced the second highest rise since record-keeping began in 1959. This jump in carbon dioxide levels is just the latest in a continuous stream of undeniable scientific evidence that humans are altering the climate of our planet. Yet, the only place where this is still an open question is in the halls of Congress.

Even as it becomes ever more absurd to ignore the science, now we can unfortunately rely on our own experience to confirm that the climate, and the weather, is getting worse. In some cases, more dangerous. And certainly more unpredictable.

There was a time when this was primarily the concern of the conservation-minded among us -- the hikers and swimmers and green-groups. But it isn't just jeopardizing ecosystems; it is causing real harm to people, and costing us billions of dollars.

In recent years, the United States has experienced a record number of devastating storms, extreme temperatures, severe floods and lasting droughts. It's no coincidence. As the climate changes, normal weather patterns are altered -- and this affects our environment, our health and our economy by influencing everything from the price of produce at the grocery store to our home insurance rates.

Climate change deniers should know they will be on the wrong side of history, but that won't prevent them from dragging their feet. They will cite the cost of a transition to a clean energy economy, while ignoring the cost of doing nothing. That cost is astronomical -- whether in storm aid, infrastructure mitigation, private property loss, or disruption in financial and insurance markets. It is much less expensive to move towards a clean energy economy than to allow severe weather to drain our economy as a whole.

This is precisely why I've joined Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Representative Henry Waxman, and Representative Earl Blumenauer in taking a big first step towards tackling climate change. We released draft carbon-pricing legislation establishing the principle that large-polluting industries should pay for the pollution they emit, and to encourage an urgent national discussion -- which is why we've solicited feedback from stakeholders and the public.

As a Senator from a state that has led the way in building clean energy infrastructure, producing renewable energy and reducing our petroleum dependency, I know we can achieve meaningful change across our nation. As Lieutenant Governor, I led the efforts toward Hawaii's 70 percent clean energy goal by 2030, and we have made encouraging progress. This partnership has the enthusiastic support of our business community, the U.S. DOE and DOD, the state government, and even our monopoly electric utility. The result? Hawaii has tripled clean energy from 6 to 18 percent in just three years, and we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.

Now I have joined my congressional colleagues in seeking ways to address the challenges of climate change at the federal level. In Hawaii, we learned that if we pushed ourselves to meet specific goals, we can make substantive progress. This has taken creativity, collaboration and innovation -- the same qualities that have helped America overcome other seemingly unconquerable problems.

Transformation did not come easily and would not have occurred without the collaboration of federal, state, business and community leaders coming together to make energy efficiency and renewable energy generation a top priority for Hawaii. Because of their hard work, Hawaii is now on track to achieve the highest Renewable Energy Portfolio in the nation with 40 percent by 2030. Not everything we do in Hawaii will work in all states, but we are learning that some policies have broad application. As a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Chair of the Water and Power Subcommittee, I will continue working to establish a thriving clean energy economy in Hawaii and throughout the United States.

We know that this will not be an easy path, but it's encouraging that President Obama has made this a top priority for his second term. There's hope on this issue, if we believe in our ability to make this transition, and stop ignoring the threat of climate change once and for all.