Moving to Action on Climate Change

It's easy to miss that there is a lot more happening on the climate change front than the alarming rise in severe weather all over the world. Without question, the latest news is sobering: Even as we learn that global carbon pollution reached record levels in 2011, most of our leaders haven't stepped up to address this crisis with the urgency that is required.

But the bad news is only part of the story. Across Asia, Latin America, Australia and even here in the United States, a few important steps are being taken to tackle the most important issue of our time. As a few nations are passing laws and regulations to reduce carbon pollution, people everywhere are seeing the impacts of climate change on their day-to-day lives, and deniers are being forced to throw in the towel.

Just recently, the Heartland Institute here in the U.S. -- a group known for its relentless and outrageous campaigns that deny climate change science -- rolled out an ill-advised billboard campaign equating those who know that climate change is real with serial killers and murderers. In less than a day, public outrage forced Heartland to take the billboard down. During their annual conference in Chicago, organizers announced that in the wake of public outcry over their desperate antics, funding for the group is drying up -- and this year's climate denial conference may well be their last.

The reason for this sea change is simple: an alarming increase in heat waves, intense storms and other extreme weather events around the world has brought the reality of climate change home to millions, making it impossible to ignore.

A recent poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found that 82 percent of Americans reported personally experiencing one or more extreme weather events or natural disasters in the past year. And 69 percent said they agreed that "global warming is affecting the weather in the United States."

And around the world, key countries are taking steps to confront this reality and work to resolve the climate crisis. On Tuesday, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico signed comprehensive national climate change legislation into law. This law will require Mexico to steadily reduce carbon pollution and obtain one-third of its electricity from renewable sources. It makes Mexico just the second country after the United Kingdom, and the first newly industrialized country, to enact a comprehensive climate law.

Halfway around the world in Australia, droughts and wildfires are increasingly commonplace and climate change is threatening the largest coral reef in the world. In November of last year, the Australian Parliament passed a law to set a price on carbon. Leaders there estimate that the law will reduce the equivalent of 45 million cars worth of carbon pollution by 2020, spurring up to $10 billion in new, clean energy investment along the way.

Meanwhile, South Korea (the world's 12th-largest economy and one of the top 10 carbon emitters in the world) became the first Asian country to pass climate legislation. This bill, which was in the works for nearly two years, establishes a cap-and-trade program beginning in 2015.

Here in the United States, we experienced 14 weather-related disasters costing $1 billion or more in 2011 alone. And here, too, change is happening. Though our national legislative process is at a dead halt, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the first national standard to limit carbon pollution by regulating the emissions of any new coal-fired power plants. Power plants contribute a whopping 40 percent of the carbon pollution in our country.

Is this rule enough all by itself? No. But it is an important step forward to protect all of us from the carbon pollution that threatens our climate.

Instead of arguing the merits of the long-decided climate change case, citizens, businesses and governments around the world are stepping forward to institute real solutions that will protect our planet for future generations. That's what's happening in Mexico, South Korea and Australia ... and yes, we can make it happen in America, too.