NWF View: A Bipartisan Call for Climate Action

Will we have the courage to address climate change before it is too late?

  • Larry J. Schweiger, NWF President and Chief Executive Officer
  • Conservation
  • Sep 30, 2013
NEARLY A DECADE AGO, I returned to work at National Wildlife Federation with a commitment to confront climate change. I knew from the latest scientific findings that a change in climate would disrupt historic weather patterns and threaten wildlife with massive extinctions. I also understood that what would befall nature would befall humanity.

Since then, the scientific warnings have grown much louder, the evidence more definitive and the consequences more menacing. Yet because carbon-polluting industries hold sway in the halls of the U.S. Congress, lawmakers have done little to reduce the carbon emissions that are triggering the planet’s fastest rate of climate change in 60 million years.

On June 25, I was in attendance when President Obama gave what will one day be seen as his most important speech. “Science, accumulated and reviewed over decades, tells us that our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind,” he said. “The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. Last year, temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record—faster than most computer models had predicted it would. These are facts.”

The president then warned that “all weather events are affected by a warming planet. The fact that sea levels in New York Harbor are now a foot higher than a century ago—that didn’t cause Hurricane Sandy, but it certainly contributed to the destruction that left large parts of our mightiest city dark and underwater.”

With the nation experiencing larger forest fires in a longer fire season, “western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland,” he added. “Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s. And we know that the costs of these events can be measured in lost lives and lost livelihoods, lost homes, lost businesses, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief.”

Yet because they are under the influence of polluters, many members of Congress continue to ignore the overwhelming body of climate science, and they refuse to pass any carbon-capping legislation. The president has been forced to use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule-making authority to regulate carbon, setting forth a series of important but insufficient measures that he can take without congressional action to begin addressing this defining threat to life in the 21st century.

On August 1, the president received an unexpected boost to his call for climate action from a chorus of former Republican EPA administrators who served under Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Together they wrote “A Republican Case for Climate Action” for The New York Times’ op-ed page. “Each of us took turns over the past 43 years running the Environmental Protection Agency,” they began. “We served Republican presidents, but we have a message that transcends political affiliation: The United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally. ...The costs of inaction are undeniable.”

Calling the president’s plan “just a start,” the former EPA administrators—William Ruckelshaus, Lee Thomas, William Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman—urged Congress to put a price on carbon and made clear “[m]ore will be required. But we must continue efforts to reduce the climate-altering pollutants that threaten our planet. The only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon. What is most clear is that there is no time to waste.”

Despite this stark warning from four of our finest EPA administrators, leaders in the House of Representatives continue to pretend climate change is not a problem. The many bad environmental bills passed by the Republican-led House outrages me as a former Republican committee member from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

In his speech, the president challenged us with these words: “So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren. As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.”

Regardless of our political party affiliations, we must heed President Obama’s challenge. We must unite to solve the climate crisis and demand that lawmakers face reality to protect our children’s future. Are you with me on this?

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