Obama's Climate Legacy: Climate Chaos or Climate Action?

Local and international activists march to demand urgent action to address climate change at the U.N. climate talks in Doha,
Local and international activists march to demand urgent action to address climate change at the U.N. climate talks in Doha, Qatar, Saturday , Dec. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Osama Faisal)

In his acceptance speech just a few weeks ago, a triumphant President Obama outlined a vision of hope for America. "We want our children to live in an America... that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."

Here in Doha, Qatar, in the halls of the U.N. climate negotiations, my team of U.S. youth delegates remembers these words. I, too, want to live in an America that is not threatened by climate change. Our chance to secure that future is slipping away. Science tells us we need to reduce emissions to achieve a maximum temperature increase of 1.5-2 degrees C. World leaders have agreed, but their action has not matched the rhetoric. We're still locked on a course toward a 4-6 degree temperature increase by 2100, which will mean catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Right now, Obama's legacy and America's future are on the line. I believed the president in 2008 when he told us that generations would look back and say "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."

We're still waiting for that moment. The time for action is almost past. Scientists say we have three years to put in place a plan to avoid climate catastrophe. Scientific research, re-affirmed by everyone from the World Bank to the International Energy Agency to evenPricewaterhouseCoopers warns that if we don't transition quickly to a clean energy economy we will be trapped into decades of destruction, ravaging our economy and devastating the people and places we love.

We are already feeling the impacts of climate change. This year could be the hottest year on record in the United States, underscored by extreme weather events such as droughts, wildfires, and devastating storms like Sandy. This is not tomorrow's problem. We are already paying a heavy cost socially, environmentally, and economically, costing billions of dollars and impacting millions of lives this year alone. As the average global temperature creeps further upward, it's only going to get worse.

At this moment, this year's U.N. climate negotiations are halfway finished. We have a 2015 deadline to secure a global climate agreement. As a youth delegate to the U.N., my role is to represent young people across America, to be a voice of reason and urgency, putting pressure on our government's position and demanding the kind of action we need to secure a livable future.

Climate change is personal. I came on my own time and my own (quite expensive) dime, traveling halfway across the world to Doha. Why? I have no choice. I want my children to grow up an in America of freedom and opportunity, without their way of life overrun by the impacts of climate change. Being here, taking action toward a livable future,is my moral imperative.

Since the election, politicians have focused almost exclusively on the fiscal cliff. It has become clear that we are teetering on the ledge of the climate cliff, and if we fall, it is game over.

Obama has repeatedly promised meaningful action on climate change, and twice the nation's youth have rallied in support. In 2008, the youth played an unprecedented, decisive part in the elections. In 2012, despite disappointment in his climate inaction, we stepped up again. We voted for a president who we believed would act to avert climate catastrophe.

America's position as a moral leader in the world depends on championing an ambitious agreement at these U.N. negotiations. The world is waiting for us, but we are falling behind, while countries like Germany and China emerge to take the lead in the global green economy.

Obama has a clear mandate here, but more than that, he has a responsibility -- to all of us. It's perhaps the greatest responsibility any presidenthas had to bear. Obama's place in history will be decided by what he does, or fails to do, about climate change.

I'm 23, but looking around at the state of my country and these negotiations, I already feel like my time is running out. I urge you, President Obama and elected officials across the country, to think: How are you going to be remembered? What will be your climate legacy?