Delivering a powerful inauguration speech to a vast crowd Tuesday, President Obama specifically addressed global warming and the need for sacrifice in halting and reversing the deterioration of the the most critical life support systems on our planet. Not only sacrifice but vision, courage, innovation, and determined commitment will be critical to finally beginning to reduce the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. New investment in energy infrastructure to improve and modernize the delivery grid coupled with an expansive plan for ending our reliance on carbon based fuels, especially coal, is imperative now -- not at some point in the future. America must develop solar, wind, and nuclear power on a scale large enough to eliminate any possibility of new coal fired plants coming on line until (and if) carbon sequestration, so-called "clean coal" becomes an viable option. For all the talk of "clean coal" it does not yet exist, consequently coal remains by far the dirtiest carbon fuel and the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases. Even worse, there's enough of it left in the ground to turn the Earth into Venus if we burn it all.
Indications are that infrastructure and sustainable production initiatives will be a significant part of the economic stimulus plan President Obama will introduce. At that point the question becomes, will Congress and the American people give our new President and his administration the support necessary to embark on the path to a long term sustainable future not only for ourselves, but the world?
The urgency of this can not be overstated. Seemingly every day now, a new scientific study or paper is published (peer reviewed) with ever more alarming results as climate forcing mechanisms kick in far sooner than previously anticipated. Scenarios predicting an ice-free North Pole by 2025 have been fed into the shredder as the lack of ice-cover and subsequent loss of solar reflectivity lead to faster ever accelerating melting. The consensus now has the top of the world ice-free by 2015. Polar bears are now drowning and starving. At the bottom of the world, Antarctica is also heating dramatically and losing mass. How soon the Western ice-sheet will collapse is no longer an esoteric question. Sea level rise as estimated by the IPCC of 60cm by the end of the century is now revised to 1.4 meters. Fully 75% of the people alive on the planet today will have to deal with the consequences of global warming. It is no longer a problem just for future generations.
Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA
Last week, James Hansen the Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies who many believe to be the foremost climate expert in the world, issued another dire warning on the the consequences of business as usual. He said, " We have only four years left for Obama to set an example to the rest of the world. America must take the lead." Only the US now has the political muscle to lead the world and halt the rise, Hansen said. Whereas atmospheric stabilization targets in the range of 450 ppm of CO2 were until recently considered adequate to prevent catastrophic climate change, Hansen and many others have now concluded that based on the best evidence now available, the maximum level of CO2 in the earth's atmosphere must be held to 350ppm. Currently, CO2 levels are well above this level at 386ppm and continue to rise. Bill McKibben, the respected author and environmentalist, has established 350.org, an international effort to raise awareness of the need to decrease carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million.
President Obama has made climate change a priority for his administration and the country. Everyone has a part to play, and everyone has an equal stake in the outcome. Urge your local energy provider to commit to using renewable sources. Write or call your Senators and Congressmen in your State and Washington, DC. Let them know that this issue is important to you. Sign up for action alerts on important policy decisions and initiatives at The Natural Resources Defense Council, Global Green, the Rainforest Action Network, or the World Wildlife Fund. Join the Virtual March at Stop Global Warming. Sign up and stay informed at The Climate Project and 350.org. Take a deep breathe and change the world.