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With today’s announcement of a national climate action plan, President Obama is pushing forward to tackle the urgent challenge of climate change. This is the most comprehensive climate plan by a U.S. president to date. If fully and swiftly implemented, the Obama Administration can truly reset the climate agenda for this country.
The plan looks to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions in a comprehensive way and takes on the question of how to protect the country from the devastating climate-related impacts we are already seeing today. With a clear, national strategy in place—and concrete steps to implement it—the administration can protect people at home and encourage greater ambition internationally.
Importantly, the president is recommitting the U.S. to meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. World Resources Institute’s (WRI) recent analysis demonstrates that meeting this target is achievable, but requires ambitious action across many sectors of the economy. WRI identifies four areas with the greatest opportunity for emissions reductions—power plants, energy efficiency, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and methane—which are all specifically included in the plan.
The plan is also notable for addressing climate impacts and encouraging increased international engagement. Together, these steps can help the U.S. reclaim lost ground on climate change. While there are many details to be worked out, this plan is a welcome step to putting the U.S. on a pathway to a safer future.
Reducing Carbon Pollution from Power Plants
First off, the president’s plan commits the U.S. to address carbon pollution in existing power plants. Power plants currently represent one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution in the U.S. The president also directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move quickly to finalize the proposed CO2 pollution standards for new power plants.
These actions will be important for protecting people’s health and the planet—and WRI analysis finds that they can be implemented in a way that is flexible and cost effective. It will be important for the EPA to act with a sense of urgency in order to meet the U.S. emissions target. Just as important as the time frame for finalizing these standards is their stringency. Without sufficient ambition, the U.S. will not be able to achieve the reductions it needs by 2020 and in the years beyond.
Increasing Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency
The additional actions and goals that the President has laid out in the plan for renewable energy and efficiency will be important in allowing stringent power plant standards to be achieved in a cost-effective manner.
On energy efficiency, the president announced a new goal to reduce CO2 pollution by a total of 3 billion metric tons through 2030 through new and existing efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings. This would be a significant reduction, the equivalent of eliminating nearly two years’ worth of emissions from coal power plants.
Energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions, as more efficient equipment uses less energy and therefore saves consumers money. There are dozens of products that are excellent candidates for new and updated efficiency standards—some of which are awaiting approval—and many more ways to capture this low-hanging fruit in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. A recent analysis finds that there are a total of six standards that are waiting for approval. Each additional month of delay on these costs consumers $200 million in lost savings and pumps an additional 3 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
The plan also calls for doubling renewable energy in the U.S. by 2020 and opening public lands for renewable energy development, to the tune of an additional 10 gigawatts of installed renewable capacity on those lands by 2020. This would be enough energy to power 2.6 million American homes.
This policy is a strong complement to the forthcoming emissions standards, as it could make compliance easier for utilities. The federal government owns roughly 28 percent of land in the U.S.; selectively opening up some public lands for clean energy projects should help ease siting concerns for utilities and project developers.
Reducing HFCs and Methane
The U.S. has been working for years to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs under the auspices of the Montreal Protocol. The recent agreement between the U.S. and China to work together toward this end is an important development in reducing emissions of this potent greenhouse gas. Both chemical and consumer product manufacturers support a planned global phasedown of HFC production and consumption. The plan also acknowledges that there is more the U.S. can and should be doing to eliminate its domestic emissions of HFCs under the Significant New Alternatives Policy Program. The plan also recognizes the importance of curbing emission of methane, another potent greenhouse gas. The President calls for development of an interagency methane strategy that improves data on methane emissions and identifies opportunities to reduce those emissions.
Preparing for Climate Impacts
Climate impacts are already happening globally. The U.S. is experiencing rising sea levels along our coasts, droughts in the Midwest, wildfires in Colorado and torrential rains in the Northeast. These impacts are taking a toll on our homes and our businesses. Drought impacts energy production and agriculture. Sea level rise threatens critical infrastructure and clean water supply. These risks are becoming a reality for people across the country.
In response, the plan aims to help Americans prepare for climate change impacts. Adapting to climate change will require striking the right balance between support and direction from the federal government and locally appropriate solutions. The plan focuses on reducing people’s vulnerability by identifying barriers and reforming policies. These actions can empower states and localities to tailor their adaptation actions to their location-specific climate challenges. It should also help create incentives for businesses to contribute to solutions. As the country rebuilds from Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events of recent years, it will be important to systematically learn what is working and what needs improvement.
International Climate Action
The president calls for greater engagement internationally—and this, too, is critically important. The U.S. can—and should—be a leader on this global challenge. Climate change will bring significant impacts that will affect our economy and our security.
The U.S. should re-engage in a purposeful and constructive way, working with the international community to rally toward an effective and ambitious international climate agreement by 2015. Cooperation on climate change—as signified by the recent announcement between the U.S. and China on HFCs—shows this is an area where collaboration is both necessary and possible. Enhanced U.S. action will catalyze other countries to come forward with a greater sense of ambition and urgency.
Moving Forward with Ambitious Climate Action
Today’s announcement marks a major milestone in the creation of a durable and far-ranging climate plan for the U.S. The details matter, of course, so we’ll be watching for more specific information about what the various agencies will do—and how quickly and strongly they take up this challenge.
This plan puts a marker in the ground that the Obama Administration is ready to take climate change seriously. It is a strong and broad approach—one that stakes new ground, but also builds on existing common-sense actions.
The plan makes clear the responsibility that we all have to take action for today’s communities and for future generations.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.