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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.

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Maggie L. Fox

“All we are not stares back at what we are.”  —“The Sea and the Mirror” W.H. Auden

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Throughout my life, there have been poets and poems I’ve carried with me everywhere, like a briefcase that’s always packed and sitting by the front door. And while it might sound strange, I’ve found myself coming back to Auden in the past few weeks after two things happened in the climate world. First, it was the European Union effectively giving up on its emission trading scheme (ETS) for regulating carbon pollution. Then it was the news that atmospheric carbon levels had reached a new record concentration of 400 parts per million (ppm).

As global milestones go, this was a quiet one. Life went on much as it had when we stood at 399.9 ppm, and few will remember exactly where they were when they heard the news. What it means, though, is that the atmosphere now has more of the heat-trapping gases driving climate change than ever before, taking us further away from the 350 ppm level scientists agree we can safely handle. With the effective collapse of the ETS, our challenge in responding becomes even greater.

Which brings me back to Auden. I can’t help thinking about this line because I can’t help thinking these two events show that we’re simply not rising to meet our potential. When it comes climate change, we’re avoiding the tough decisions instead of stepping up to the challenge, pure and simple. Seeing us cross the 400 ppm threshold or reading another climate denier distort the facts in the papers, I know we are better than this. Because what we are not, as Auden would have it, is extraordinary.

As we celebrate Memorial Day, think back to the generations that came before us and the existential challenges they faced. The ones, for example, who came together selflessly to defeat Nazi tyranny, whether they were daily risking death on the front lines or working hard on the home front. They took on this challenge because there were people and places in their lives they loved deeply and utterly, and there was nothing they wouldn’t do to protect them. And in part because of that love, they won.

We don’t have to face bullets, but we do have to face reality and make real choices about climate change. Those of us who’ve been working in the movement for decades are used to being called merchants of doom and gloom (and sometimes much worse). These names miss the point entirely. What gets me out of bed isn’t dread, but love for the faces that appear in my picture frames and around my breakfast table. Given a choice between giving up my arms or something happening to my family or friends, I’d offer you my legs too. Just like any mother, I want my children to have the freedom to make the lives they want. I also want to be able to run in the mountains and savor a cup of Moka Java in the morning. I could go on and everyone will have their own list, but in every case, this means taking care of what we love on this exquisite planet.

This is the challenge of our time, the one that will define us to our grandchildren and beyond. The good news is that the solution starts with a simple step: putting a price on carbon. With a price on carbon, we curb the carbon pollution accelerating climate change and ultimately take care of what we love. It will not be easy, but it’s a challenge we can solve together. It’s past time to step up, to be worthy of the generations before us and faithful to the ones who’ll come after.

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

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