Climate change and the world we leave to our children

Tampa Bay Times
Published June 28, 2013

On Tuesday, I unveiled a new national plan to confront climate change. It's a plan that will reduce carbon pollution to prevent the worst effects of climate change, prepare our country for the effects we can't stop, and lead the world in combating the growing threat of a changing climate. • Many Americans who already feel the effects of climate change don't have time to deny it — they're busy dealing with it. Firefighters are braving longer wildfire seasons. Farmers are seeing crops wilt one year, and wash away the next. Western families are worried about water that's drying up. And while we know no single weather event is caused solely by climate change, we also know that in an increasingly warmer world, all weather events — from droughts to floods to storms like last year's Hurricane Isaac and Tropical Storm Debby — are affected by it.

The costs of inaction can be measured in lost lives and livelihoods, lost homes and businesses, higher food costs and insurance premiums, and hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief. So the question is not whether we need to act, but 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 we leave to our children, and to future generations.

This plan will cut the dangerous carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. For years, groups like the American Lung Association have warned us that carbon pollution threatens our health and the air our children breathe. We limit the mercury, sulfur and arsenic in our air and water, but today, there are no federal limits on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can pump into the air. That's not safe. So we'll work with states and businesses to set new standards that put an end to this limitless dumping of carbon.

We'll encourage our businesses to deploy more clean energy. Since 2009, we've doubled the amount of electricity we generate from the wind and the sun, and supported more than 1,100 renewable energy projects in Florida, generating enough energy to power nearly 17,000 homes.

Building on that progress will lead to less pollution in our air and more jobs for American workers building wind turbines and installing solar panels. And we'll waste less energy in our cars, homes and businesses by partnering with truck makers so their next generation of vehicles go farther on a gallon of gas, and by putting people to work building smarter homes and offices, and appliances that use less electricity, saving you money on your energy bills.

But the hard truth is that even if we do our part, our climate will continue to change for some time. That's why the second part of this plan will protect key sectors of our economy and prepare the United States for impacts of climate change we can't avoid. Cities and states around the country are taking action to strengthen coastlines and water supplies, and we're partnering with Florida to restore the state's natural clean water delivery system, the Everglades. We'll keep supporting these efforts, working with communities to protect homes and businesses and build more resilient infrastructure that can withstand more powerful storms.

Finally, because no nation can tackle this challenge alone, America will lead international efforts to combat a changing climate. We'll partner with our businesses to help developing countries make the move to cleaner energy, and engage international partners on steps to reduce carbon pollution. We compete for business, but we also share a planet. And we must all shoulder the responsibility for its future.

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

This is the fight America can and will lead in the 21st century. But it will require all of us, as citizens, to do our part. Scientists and farmers, engineers and businesses, workers and builders all have a role to play. We'll need to give special care to people and communities unsettled by this transition. And those of us in positions of responsibility will need to be less concerned with the judgment of well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of future generations.

If you agree with me, I ask you to act. Educate your classmates and colleagues, your family and friends. Speak up against the special interests and their allies in Congress. Remind everyone who represents you, at every level of government, that there is no contradiction between a sound environment and a strong economy, and that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.

We will be judged as a people, as a society, and as a country by where we go from here. The plan I put forward to reduce carbon pollution and protect our country from the effects of climate change is the path we need to take. And if we remember what's at stake — the world we leave to our children — I'm convinced that this is a challenge we will meet.

Barack Obama is president of the United States. This essay is exclusive in Florida to the Tampa Bay Times.