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Frances Beinecke

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its latest assessment of what science is telling us about the state of our planet. Researchers are more certain than ever before that humans are causing climate change and that some of its most dangerous impacts are accelerating faster than expected.

Many Americans already know this to be true. We have seen our own communities pummeled by more intense and more frequent heat waves, droughts and storms. But even as we witness one record-breaking event after another, we count on scientists to interpret the larger trends. The IPCC is the most authoritative group in the business. 

More than 600 researchers from 32 countries reviewed more than 9,000 peer-reviewed studies for this report. They produced 2,000 pages of scientific analysis and worked through 56,000 comments. The assessment they produced is sweeping, comprehensive and inescapable.

The science is clear: we are gambling with the well-being of our kids and future generations.

 

Pollution from human activities is changing the Earth’s climate. We see the damage that a disrupted climate can do: on our coasts, our farms, forests, mountains and cities. Those impacts will grow more severe unless we start reducing global warming pollution now.

The IPCC panel noted, for instance, that seas could rise by three feet by the end of this century if we don’t rein in dangerous carbon pollution. Imagine what this could mean. Children born today might witness Miami becoming part of the Everglades, New Orleans sinking underwater and parts of New York looking more like Venice.

Some naysayers have pounced on reports that the rise in surface temperature was slower in the past 15 years than over the past 50 years. They leap from this to an unscientific claim that global warming is no longer a threat. The world’s scientists know this is nonsense.

Researchers will continue to refine the details of the interplay between natural cooling cycles and human-caused warming. But here is what we already know: the planet has not cooled. It has continued to warm, and the last decade was the hottest on record since 1850—even with two cooling cycles of La Niña.

Treating a temporary slowdown as a miracle that will save us from climate disruption would be the height of folly. The science tells us that if we fail to reduce global warming pollution, global temperatures will rise to dangerous levels and unleash devastating extreme weather events and accelerate destructive sea level rise. A few years of steady temperatures at record high levels won’t prevent the collision that awaits us.

Regardless of whether our car is speeding at 90 miles an hour or 85 miles an hour, we are still in the danger zone. The time has come to put on the brakes.

The single most important thing we can do to protect our communities from climate change is to reduce dangerous carbon pollution. Here in the U.S., power plants account for the largest source of these emissions—40 percent—yet plants are free to pump as much carbon as they want into the atmosphere. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to end the era of unlimited carbon now.

The Obama administration has begun this process. Last week it proposed the first-ever carbon limits for new power plants. Now it is preparing similar limits for existing power plants. States and utilities will likely have a great deal of flexibility in how they meet the standards for existing plants, including investing in energy efficiency, renewable power and carbon capture technology. Natural Resources Defense Council’s analysis shows that this approach can cut fleet-wide carbon pollution 26 percent by 2020 and save people money on their monthly electricity bills. It could also create a net increase of 210,000 jobs in 2020. That’s a great investment for today and tomorrow.

As we chart our path forward, we must always use science as our guide. Right now the evidence is sending a clear and resounding signal: act now to reduce carbon pollution and ensure our children inherit a more stable climate.

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

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I have worked to curb climate change for more than a decade. I keep up the fight because I know we can tackle this crisis. I know clean energy solutions exist that can reduce dangerous carbon pollution and strengthen our economy at the same time. But even as we unite behind sustainable technologies, we have to mobilize and stop the dirtiest projects—projects like tar sands oil.

In a new video Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Trustee Robert Redford outlines the hazards of this filthy fuel and explains that while strip mining for tar sands is great for oil companies, it’s terrible for the rest of us who want to preserve the northern forests, protect drinking water and leave our children with a stable climate.

“The saner choice is clean energy,” Redford says. “But we’re not going to get it unless millions of us demand it. So please join me in saying no to tar sands oil and yes to clean energy.”

You can add your voice to this call at NRDC’s new site DemandCleanPower.org—a gathering place for those who stand firmly against climate-destroying fuels and in favor of a clean energy future. Some of the nation’s leading cultural figures, including Redford, Van Jones, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Carole King and Jack Kornfield are joining forces with us to help move America beyond fossil fuels and climate chaos.

We need this critical mass now more than ever. As Redford says in his video, America won’t realize our clean energy potential unless more people demand it.

Thousands of homegrown companies are tapping these sustainable resources, and many states have smart policies to spur wind and solar development and investment in energy efficiency. But fossil fuel companies and their allies in Congress try to rig the game in their favor. They lobby in state houses to roll back environmental safeguards and they work on Capitol Hill to try to block the Environmental Protection Agency from addressing climate change pollution.

And now they want to build a pipeline that will expand production of the dirtiest fuel on the planet. As NRDC Trustee Van Jones says in his video for DemandCleanPower.org, “developing the Canadian tar sands would be like lighting a fuse on a carbon bomb.”

We must raise our voices against these dirty fuels, because when we are loud enough, our leaders listen. In November 2011, tens of thousands of people gathered at the White House to protest the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and days later President Obama hit the pause button on a project that had seemed destined to proceed. In February 2013, Kansas residents worked with NRDC to beat back an attempt to repeal the state’s clean energy standard, which has helped generate 12,000 local jobs in the wind industry and brought in $3 billion in investment. And this spring, grassroots activists, environmental public health groups, business executives and Latino leaders kept the pressure on President Obama until he finally announced a robust plan to confront climate change in June.

I welcome this progress, but we aren’t stopping here—we are pushing forward on numerous fronts. On September 21, for instance, our partners at 350.org are leading the Draw the Line day. People will be taking action across the U.S. to tell President Obama that stopping the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is the only way to keep his climate promises. 

Reining in dirty fuels won’t be easy. These industries have deep pockets and powerful influence.

But we will fight back, because we know there is a better way. America can transition away from the dirtiest fuels and toward more renewable power and more efficient cars, homes and businesses.

American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield urges us not to give in to confusion or paralysis in his video. “When we hear about climate change it feels overwhelming,” he says. “What can we do?  Let’s stop encouraging the use of dirty fuels and make the transformation that is possible for us. As Pablo Neruda the great Chilean poet writes, ‘you can pick all the flowers but you can’t stop the spring.'"

Click here to join other Americans in demanding clean power.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES and CLIMATE CHANGE pages for more related news on this topic.

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