After the Inauguration: A National Conversation on Carbon

FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, smoke rises in this time exposure image from the stacks of the La Cygne Generating S
FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, smoke rises in this time exposure image from the stacks of the La Cygne Generating Station coal-fired power plant in La Cygne, Kan. This year the nationís weather has been hotter and more extreme than ever, federal records show. Yet there are two people who arenít talking about it, and they both happen to be running for president. In 2009, President Barack Obama proposed a bill that would have capped power plant carbon dioxide emissions and allowed trading of credits for the right to emit greenhouse gases, but the measure died in Congress. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, Filr

In his inaugural address one week ago, President Obama delivered a powerful and visionary call to action on climate change. "We will respond to the threat of climate change," he said, "knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

We are already deeply engaged in the climate change fight -- which is really a fight for the welfare of our children and grandchildren, and for our planet which sustains life. For me, and for all of us who are committed to this cause, what the president said was newly empowering. We applaud President Obama for his bold commitment to take meaningful action in his second term to begin solving the climate crisis -- and we look forward to working with all of our leaders to make this promise a reality.

Climate change is already a part of our lives. Just after we learned 2012 was the hottest year on record in the continental U.S., a federal advisory committee issued a draft National Climate Assessment, which found that climate change "is already affecting the American people." In every region of the country, heat waves, extreme storms, drought, and other climate impacts are threatening our health, our food and water supply, and the infrastructure that holds our lives and livelihoods together.

These are the facts -- but it is also clear that simply repeating these facts is not enough, nor is throwing up our hands in despair. We need to face up to this reality and engage in a real conversation about what we can do about it. And there is much we can and must do now.

Last November, just after Superstorm Sandy uprooted people's lives and caused tens of billions in damages, the president called on us to have a national conversation about the carbon pollution damaging our planet.

The time for this national carbon conversation is overdue. We need a carbon conversation that connects the dots between our warming climate and the 90 million tons of carbon pollution that we are dumping into the atmosphere every day. And we need a conversation about what carbon pollution is already costing us -- from the insurance bills that come with extreme weather, to the severe health impacts of climate change, to all the other devastating costs we're imposing on ourselves now and on future generations. We are already paying the price of carbon pollution, and now we need to ensure polluters pay the price if we are to address this challenge.

Part of our conversation will be about how to reduce carbon pollution -- right now -- by investing in efficiency and harnessing sustainable energy sources that are available today. Already, local communities are taking action well ahead of any federal initiative. Mayors around the country are designing modern transportation systems, improving energy efficiency, and taking other measures to both reduce carbon and enhance the quality of life. Businesses like Ikea are taking historic steps to invest in renewable energy -- to help their bottom line as much as to protect the planet.

And even as these individual steps are taken, President Obama will need to follow through on his historic words with action. He must use his executive authority to reduce carbon pollution from power plants now. He must reject harmful proposals to increase carbon pollution, like the Keystone XL pipeline. To that end, the president should fulfill his commitment to lead a national conversation about carbon pollution and about what we can do solve it.