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President Obama, Lead Us to Copenhagen
Alex Steffen, 14 Jul 09
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Dear President Obama,

Copenhagen is calling. The time has come for you to show real conviction in U.S. politics, to lead the American people and to serve humanity's common global interest in stopping catastrophic climate change by committing now to attending in person the COP-15 climate summit in Copenhagen this December and rallying the American people to support bold climate action by the U.S. Senate this September.

On climate, there is not a moment to lose. We know now that climate change is a deeper problem, and worsening more quickly, than even people like us who care about the issue suspected just couple years ago. We run a very real risk of finding ourselves in a spiral of cause and effect running us inexorably into catastrophic transformations even within our lifetimes.

Perhaps more alarming -- if we needed more alarm than that -- we're realizing that climate change is linked to every other profound global challenge we face. A planetary crisis is unfolding, involving a great many problems, but we cannot hope to meet the other aspects of that crisis without first preventing catastrophic climate change.

Care about health care? In a special issue, one of the world's premier medical journals, the Lancet, recently called climate "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century."

Care about the national defense? Twelve retired U.S. generals and admirals, in a new major report, say "climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security."

Care about poverty? Climate change is expected to swamp all efforts to improve the lives of many of the world's poorest people, increasing hunger and conflict over resources, and driving perhaps as many as 300 million people into becoming climate refugees.

Even if we believed that the rest of the world could fall apart without impacting the U.S. -- and that would be a foolish belief, indeed -- global warming is expected to wreak havoc here at home. Your own administration's scientific leaders just released a preliminary study on climate impacts in the U.S. which found that "Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase." They find scientific evidence that water shortages, health risks, farm impacts and weather disasters (like hurricanes and tornadoes) are already worsening quickly.

And, of course, all of these problems themselves contribute in turn to the sorts of environmental and energy problems that are making slowing down climate change more difficult. That's a feedback loop that's getting tighter and faster more quickly than we ever expected.

But that feedback loop can be broken. We know how to meet the challenge of climate change: with drastic emissions cuts. We also know that because so many of the steps needed to fight climate change (from greater energy efficiency to smart urban growth) have large economic benefits as well as costs, deep cuts in emissions are possible at a very small overall cost to the economy. Indeed, when you count the costs of inaction, it could not be more evident that fighting climate change makes sense even when considered purely on economic terms.

Right now, the Senate has postponed debating climate legislation until September. We hope you will fight for its speedy passage. But we implore you to note the gross insufficiency of that legislation, and to do something much bolder: to make addressing climate change your administration's central cause from now through the Copenhagen climate summit.

You carry the burden of many pressing demands, but for no other issue are the stakes even a fraction as high. The world will not long remember what you do or say about health care, or education, or fiscal policy, or Mideast peace. But our children will remember very clearly what we do -- or do not do -- in the next six months to protect the planet's climate, and their grandchildren will either praise or curse us largely by the courage and vision we show on meeting this planetary crisis.

The American people don't understand this at all, yet. They don't understand climate change. They don't understand its causes: at least 40 percent believe that human activity is not to blame. They don't understand its dangers: more than 40 percent now believe -- largely due to deliberate misinformation -- that the “seriousness of global warming” is exaggerated. They don't understand what we stand to lose from inaction -- and how much we might gain from action if we choose to act boldly. They don't see that climate change, and the bundle of global and national problems that are tied to climate change, will impact every aspect of their lives, and that confronting climate change could be the mechanism by which we can fix many things that are wrong in the world and at home.

If the American people are going to come to an understanding of this crisis moment, they will have to be led. So, Mr. President, I urge you to take real leadership on climate: not leadership as it is practiced inside the Beltway, where a few strongly-worded soundbites and a swift compromise gain you the acclaim of pundits and the powerful, but the leadership of the real world, where success and failure are measured by the good you have done those who cannot do for themselves.

The future cannot vote. Children cannot vote. The hungry farm families of Africa's Sahel cannot vote; neither can the families fleeing from flooded coastlines around the world, or sickening from diseases we once thought were on the run, or living in slums in the paths of ever-worsening natural disasters. The millions of species at risk of imminent extinction -- from polar bears to the smallest unknown tropical flower -- cannot vote. When it comes right down to it, the voices of even most Americans are faint in the halls of Congress, while the voices of the rest of the world and the rest of humanity's future, well, they are nowhere to be heard.

Only you can be their voice, Mr. President. Only you can quicken the change we need. Only you can educate the people from the bully pulpit, and stir us to action, inspire our leaders and call to task the selfish opponents of change. Only you can bring a renewed global enthusiasm to the talks in Copenhagen by committing now to attending and turning this nation's full support to the process. In a very real way, the fate of the planet rests on your shoulders alone, though if you take up this cause, I know that tens of millions of us will go all in to support you.

A term of office in which you spent every iota of your political capital on leading the American people to truly understand the climate crisis and accomplished nothing else would not be a wasted term; but a term in which another four years are allowed to flow by in tepid inaction, another chance at global agreement is allowed to crumble down to its lowest common denominator, another rising chorus for action is allowed to fall gradually into silence and cynicism, while our hopes burn out and our time grows ever shorter -- that would be more than a wasted term, that would be a epochal tragedy. That would make your legacy shameful.

Jonas Salk, the esteemed doctor who among many contributions in a lifetime of service invented the vaccine that vanquished polio from the planet, saving millions of children from paralysis and death, once said that amidst many conflicting duties, "our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.”

Mr. President, one measure of how good ancestor you will be -- how good a set of ancestors we Americans will all be -- waits to be taken on the floor of the Senate. But your administration's -- and our generation's -- epitaph will not be decided there, but in Copenhagen, and what the COP-15 Summit makes possible in the critical years that follow. If we fail to move much more boldly, that epitaph will be simply "They risked too little, acted too late, and threw away our hope."

I implore you to write another ending to our story: "They saw clearly, they stood fast and they gave us back a future."

Mr. President, lead the people. Mr. President, go to Copenhagen.

Image source: The UN Climate Change Conference website

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Comments

Great message to President Obama. Like to add an older message that's still actual:

http://tinyurl.com/7z3gj9


Posted by: Erik van Erne, Milieunet Foundation on 14 Jul 09

It would be great if we (who would like to) could sign a letter like this, in Avaaz-style.

It´s great, very important!

In the months to come, our future will be decided.

Marie Carlsson
Sweden


Posted by: Marie Carlsson on 18 Jul 09

Excellent letter! Now can you get him to read it?


Posted by: Andy Lubershane on 19 Jul 09

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