“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.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.