Leading Scientists Say Cutting Climate Change Pollution Is Affordable -- and Essential

The world’s leading scientists released their gravest warning yet about the threat of climate change, saying we will face “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” unless we act now. This report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that climate change is already contributing to intense drought, flooding, and heat waves. And it says we will see widespread impacts including food shortages and armed conflict if the human community fails to reduce dangerous carbon pollution.

But the report also emphasizes that addressing climate change is affordable and feasible.

“We have the means to limit climate change,” IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri said. “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change.”

The will to change is growing stronger every day. I see it taking hold among leaders from the United States, China, and the EU. I see it rising in communities vulnerable to climate change, from the Lower Ninth Ward to Kenyan farmlands. And I see it inspiring hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens to join events like the People’s Climate March and demand action now.

We must marshal all these forces if we are going to honor our obligation to protect future generations from unchecked climate change.

To prevent irreparable harm, the IPCC calls for reducing carbon emissions to zero by the end of the century. At NRDC, we know this is possible, and we know the United States can meet the goal sooner.

America can become carbon neutral in our lifetime. We can ensure our economy grows and our fossil fuel pollution decreases at the same time.

As I explain in my new book, The World We Create: A Message of Hope for a Planet in Peril, we do it by reducing our dependence on coal, gas, and oil, using energy more efficiently, expanding renewable power, and preserving forests and wetlands as carbon sinks.

The US has already begun building the low-carbon economy. Wind and solar power accounted for more than 44 percent of all new electricity generating capacity built between 2011 and 2013. The Obama Administration issued clean car standards that will cut carbon pollution from new cars in half and save drivers $80 billion at the pump a year by 2025. And in June, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed national limits on carbon pollution from power plants—the largest source of carbon emissions in our nation.

These are important first steps, and we must let our lawmakers know we support them. But the US has to move faster if we want to bypass the worst of climate change.

As I read the IPCC findings this weekend, I was reminded of another publication. NRDC Co-Founder and longtime friend Gus Speth released a report that put the threat of climate change squarely in the spotlight of government leaders. That was in 1980 when Gus worked for the Carter Administration.

Scientists and policymakers have known about the climate threat for decades; we are running out of time to defuse it. If we as a nation commit to becoming carbon neutral, we can finally protect our families from the hazards of climate change. We just have to act now.