Monday, January 7, 2013

Backing Away from the Climate Cliff

Dan Lashof, Program Director, Climate & Clean Air, Washington, D.C.

The long run up to the fiscal cliff is finally, and thankfully, over.

Now, it's time for the president to address an even more serious cliff: the climate change cliff-the one we're fast approaching as the amount of global-warming pollution in our atmosphere continues to rise.

That's why today, NRDC and a broad coalition of environmental, civic, labor and healthcare groups urged the president to take bold and decisive action to help protect the nation against climate change's ravages.

"Dear Mr. President," we wrote in a letter, representing the millions of Americans who are members of the 69 signatory groups. "Thank you for repeatedly raising the threat of climate change as you have outlined your priorities for your second term.... It is the great challenge of our time and our response will leave an historic legacy."

In particular, this broad coalition has coalesced around three things we're asking the president to do, three things that can make the biggest difference on climate right now, three things President Obama can do on his own, without needing the divided Congress to act:

The first of those is to "elevate the issue of climate disruption and climate solutions in the public discourse."


Because leadership matters. Because the president has to rally public support for the bold steps he must take to address climate change and to make sure those steps aren't undone by Congress.

If you think talking about global warming isn't important, think again. Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle and colleagues have documented how political leaders's statements about climate have extremely significant effects. In one of Brulle's recent studies, in fact, statements by political leaders were "found to be the largest single factor in explaining the ups and downs of public worries about the threat of climate change," Brulle explains.

"If the President starts talking about climate change more, it will get more media coverage, and maybe more statements of support about climate change from other important players will emerge," Brulle said in an email.

The second thing we're asking the president to do is to use the EPA's existing authority under the Clean Air Act to limit global-warming pollution from existing power plants. Right now, America's fossil-fuel-fired power plants produce a full 40 percent of our global warming pollution, making them by far the largest source. A new proposal NRDC put forward last month shows that EPA can set standards that will achieve big reductions at low cost. In fact, our analysis shows, the EPA can cut power plant carbon pollution by 26 percent by 2020 and 34 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels.

The plan's benefits-worth between $25 and $60 billion in 2020-far outweigh its costs-about $4 billion. And not only that, implementing the plan will drive investments in energy efficiency and clean energy, creating thousands of jobs across the country.

The last thing we're asking the president in this letter is to reject use of the dirtiest fuels. With the world's climate increasingly fragile, and our need to reduce production of global-warming pollution increasingly clear, the last thing we need to burn is high-carbon fuel, like tar sands. In fact, trying to cut carbon pollution while increasing our use of tar sands is a bit like trying to diet while binging on hot fudge sundaes. It's not going to work (believe me, I've tried it). That's why we're urging the President to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would transport a huge amount of tar sands across the highly sensitive aquifers that supply much of the water for the agricultural plains, and will endanger our health and safety.

As the president begins his second term, we know we're not the only ones thinking about his legacy. What will it be?

Reflecting on that, Mr. Obama said, in a recent Time magazine interview:

...On an issue like climate change, for example, I think for this country and the world to ask some very tough questions about what are we leaving behind, that weighs on you. And not to mention the fact I think that [my daughters'] generation is much more environmentally aware than previous generations.

There is that sense of we've got to get this right, and at least give them a fighting chance.... [Y]ou don't want them inheriting the consequences of bad choices that you make. We have to think about that as a society as a whole.

In our letter today, Mr. President, we ask that you keep your daughters and their generation foremost in mind.

We know where the carbon pollution is coming from. We know how to cut it. Let's get after it!

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