This Is Our Last Chance

12-19-08 Our Last Chance CanadaLynx_jpg We at the National Wildlife Federation congratulate President-elect Obama on his victory and stand ready to assist him in every way possible at this critical moment in American history. In addition to two wars, an extraordinarily deep recession and staggering debt, the new administration faces a climate crisis that threatens to push the planet out of the so-called Holocene climate period and into temperature ranges that human civilizations and much of nature have never experienced.

After decades of procrastination, the climate crisis has reached the final moment of truth—we either act now or fail. At most, we have two years to sign into law a bold federal Climate Security Act, and a third year to gather 67 Senate votes to secure an international treaty to prevent a global-warming catastrophe.

As renowned climate scientist James Hansen recently told federal lawmakers on the 20-year anniversary of his first congressional testimony on climate change, this is our "last chance" to change course. The world around us has been in a period of profound ecological change, like an invisible cancer that has spread so far that the external signs of organ damage are now unmistakable. The Arctic is melting at a pace 50 years ahead of what scientists anticipated only a short while ago. Now radiating out over 900 miles, Arctic warming is defrosting tundra and overheating and killing boreal forests, releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Unbridled carbon emissions are currently increasing at a speed that outpaces even the worst-case climate forecasts of the Fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2007.

With a president-elect who understands the enormous threat global warming poses and a new Congress coming in, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to put America on the path to a clean-energy future. The myth of "cheap fossil fuels forever" has finally burst and Americans have witnessed the enormous damage our dependency has done to our economy. Americans are once again looking to our government to solve key societal problems at a scale that could not have been imagined even a year ago. Public support for clean energy is at record high levels.

The American public is way ahead of the politicians. Last summer, former Vice President Al Gore issued a challenge to the American people to "Repower America" within ten years. More than two million people have already taken this challenge. In a recent poll conducted by National Wildlife Federation’s Action Fund, 81 percent of America’s sportsmen stated that the nation needs to set a bold new vision to have 100 percent clean energy sources for electricity in 10 years. And yet, the minimum that the science says we must do is well beyond what many politicians believe is politically feasible at this time.

When America had an energy crisis in the 1970s, U.S. lawmakers responded with the nation’s first fuel-efficiency standards and other sweeping changes. In contrast, last year, Congress responded to public outrage on energy by lifting bans on offshore oil drilling and authorizing the development of carbon polluting oil shale for transportation fuels—measures that will add two- or three-cars’ worth of carbon to the sky for every auto on the road that will be powered by carbon-belching oil shales. This is a shameful response to an urgent crisis that runs so much deeper than "drill, baby, drill."

Recent history suggests that, instead of responding with big changes, Congress may instead dress up small changes in big rhetoric—unless you and I hold each lawmaker accountable for responsible action. The United States still has the greatest intellectual and industrial resources in the world and we can—and must—solve the global warming crisis. As we approach the next climate treaty negotiations next year in Copenhagen, the eyes of the world will be upon us to show that we can still lead.

National Wildlife Federation is a part of the Repower America movement, and we are proposing our own set of grassroots actions to be carried out in concert with a number of other groups and institutions. We have nicknamed our efforts the "Clean in 10" climate campaign. Our goal: to inspire Americans to rapidly transform to a clean-energy economy that will be fully underway within the next decade.

With new leadership in the White House, we can spur a global revolution in zero-carbon energy that pulls us back from the brink of climate catastrophe and provides new economic opportunities in every town of America, and every nation of the world. Now that is something worth fighting for, and our children will be glad we did.

Larry Schweiger

Published: December 19, 2008