Quantcast

Declaring Our Independence from Carbon Pollution

Climate

Maggie L. Fox

“You can resist an invading army; you can’t resist an idea whose time has come.” —Victor Hugo

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Last week, I watched President Obama stand up to the fossil fuel industry and all their friends in Congress and for future generations as he outlined his national Climate Action Plan. The speech was clear sighted on both the core problem of carbon pollution and the fact we’re already paying for it in spades. It was bold in following through on a promise to take action if Congress failed. Most important, though, this was the first time in a generation when a U.S. president officially broke the silence on climate change with a real plan. 

Yes, other leaders have broached the subject in public and President Obama had spoken of the climate crisis during his second inaugural address and the State of the Union speech this winter. This was different. This wasn’t a speech designed to energize just an engaged environmental community or a section of the base with promises. This was a speech for the nation singling out the greatest existential threat we face and laying out a vision for how we confront it. Together.

More than fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy challenged us to put a man on the moon, and we did it. Last week, President Obama challenged us to step up and create a future we can be proud to give our children. And we will. Because if I had to summarize all of the speech’s moments of leadership and moments of publicly shaming climate deniers in one simple thought, it would be this: getting serious about solving carbon pollution and climate change is an idea whose time has truly come.

As for the specifics of the speech, there were a lot of great ideas and policy tools, but the four most important steps the president put forward were these:

  • Setting standards for power plants to reduce carbon pollution. Power plants are the single largest source of our greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for nearly 40 percent of our carbon pollution. The president’s plan calls for new standards lowering the rate of carbon pollution to be in place for all power plants by January 2016. We’ve already seen this approach work with fuel-efficiency standards for cars: the government set goals and industry has exceeded them.

  • Setting standards for energy efficiency. Increasing energy efficiency is the easiest, most inexpensive, and most immediate way to reduce carbon pollution. The president recognizes this and his plan increases funding and federal incentives for energy efficiency, including $250 million in loans for rural utilities.

  • Expanding renewable energy. Increasing use of clean energy means reducing carbon pollution. It also means creating economic opportunities and jobs, jobs, jobs. The president’s takes advantage of this win-win situation to expand renewable energy development on public land and double our solar and wind energy use by 2020.

  • Renewing our commitment to international agreements. Climate change is a challenge we can only solve together as a planet. The president’s plan calls for the U.S. to engage with nations around the world through multilateral and bilateral climate negotiations to spur global action on climate change. The recent agreement with China on phasing out hydrofluorocarbon greenhouse gases through the Montreal Protocol is an example of the power of these agreements and the seriousness of the president’s commitment.

The policy prescriptions are critical, but to my mind, the most important point in the speech came at the end:

“What we need in this fight are citizens who will stand up, and speak up, and compel us to do what this moment demands. 

Understand this is not just a job for politicians. So I'm going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what’s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future.”

To put it another way, it’s up to us. If we want to solve climate change, we have to stand up and get involved. We have to talk with our friends, families and networks, and help them understand the truth of the crisis, how it affects them and what we can do to solve it. Then, together we have to make our leaders listen.

This message rings true to me and is an important one to focus on the Fourth of July. Let’s not beat around the bush: as Americans, we are strong willed and independent minded. After all, the nation was founded because we didn’t want someone telling us what to do and taxing us for the privilege. Never mind the audacity of rebelling against a global empire or the practical costs of fighting a war against a well-trained, professional army. We wanted the freedom of self-determination. And we embraced a challenge to get it.

As a nation, we’ve always risen to the challenge, and today, this looks to be one of the greatest of them all. Our freedom to make the life we want really is at stake here, threatened by seas that would swallow towns and extreme weather that’s hitting us harder, more often, and with higher costs than ever before.

Make no mistake: we have a lot of work to do. We have to connect the dots for people so they understand the things they hold dear are at risk. Then we have a fight with a caged bear, as on the other side, Big Coal and Big Oil and their denier friends are doing everything they can to stop us. But if we believe the freedoms we have and the things we love intimately are worth protecting, we have to stand up and together cut carbon pollution. It’s an idea whose time has come.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

——–

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

DESIREE MARTIN / AFP / Getty Images

Wildfires raging on Gran Canaria, the second most populous of Spain's Canary Islands, have forced around 9,000 people to evacuate.

Read More Show Less
Wolves in Mount Rainier, Washington. Ron Reznick / VW Pics / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The last four members of an embattled wolf pack were killed in Washington State Friday, hours before the court order that could have saved them.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Plateau Creek near De Beque, Colorado, where land has been leased for oil and gas production. Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post / Getty Images

By Randi Spivak

Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump's Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America's public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber and livestock interests since the day he took office.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
Global SO2 Emission Hotspot Database / Greenpeace

A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about donations to the Amazon Fund. LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images

By Sue Branford and Thais Borges

Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Read More Show Less
Gina Lopez, the Philippine secretary of the environment, at a meeting with residents affected by a mine tailing disaster. Keith Schneider

Gina Lopez, a former Philippine environment secretary, philanthropist and eco-warrior, died on Aug. 19 from brain cancer. She was 65.

Read More Show Less
Trump speaks to contractors at the Shell Chemicals Petrochemical Complex on Aug. 13 in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

Thousands of union members at a multibillion dollar petrochemical plant outside of Pittsburgh were given a choice last week: Stand and wait for a speech by Donald Trump or take the day off without pay.

Read More Show Less