New EPA rule: a turning point for climate change?

The OlympianJune 8, 2014 

Good for President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency. By proposing that states achieve a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, they’ve taken an important step toward facing reality.

Climate change is real, and its long-term consequences may be devastating. The nations of the world have set a goal of limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees above pre-industrial levels in order to forestall a sea level rise of more than about 3 feet by the end of this century.

Even if this goal is achieved, the effects of climate change will include droughts, wildfires, severe storms, mass extinctions, disruption of food supplies, and inundation of low-lying areas that are home to millions of people. If the goal is not achieved, things will get far worse.

Nonetheless, only 29 percent of Americans think climate change is a top priority issue, according to a recent Pew Research poll. And already the proposed EPA rule is under attack by the Republican establishment, the coal industry, and business.

Even the Obama administration’s relatively bold proposal won’t be enough to reach established international goals unless – and this is a big unless – the American people rise up to support it and make this a turning point in our resolve to take climate change seriously.

Heaven knows we urgently need a turning point. Already scientists have observed unstoppable melting of the West Antarctica ice sheet that may lead to a sea level rise of 10 feet or more in coming centuries. On a planet whose surface is already 70 percent ocean, that won’t leave a lot of land mass for our descendants.

And that is the central problem: the issue of climate change is about our descendants more than it is about us. It’s about the grandchildren we already know and love, but it is equally about seven generations and even 70 generations into the future.

Climate change calls us to a higher level of moral imagination than humans have ever been challenged to achieve: It demands that we act in the interests of children born hundreds or even thousands of years from now.

To rise to this challenge, we must use the full measure of our rights as citizens of the most powerful democracy on Earth to overcome entrenched interests that support the status quo.

The business case against the proposed EPA rule is that limiting our own emissions will put us at a competitive disadvantage with nations that don’t. But those other nations won’t limit their emissions if we don’t limit ours first. That’s called global leadership, and it’s what the planet needs from us.

The more populist case against the rule is that our power bills are likely to go up. That might be painful, but we have to weigh the prices we pay now for gas and electricity against the survival of children born centuries from now – children whose faces we will never see.

We hope the proposed rule turns the tide in the national and international fight against climate change. We have wallowed in denial for so long that it is too late to prevent it, but it is never too late to do all we can to keep it from becoming worse.

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