This Earth Day, you can support a historic step towards curbing climate change

My hometown is now New York City, and I have pretty much been in a New York State of mind all my life. I grew up in lovely countryside east of Binghamton, NY; spent many years in the Finger Lakes Region; and now visit the Hudson River Valley whenever I can. But I do love my small town, Manhattan. I know my bread-baker, the green-grocer, the person I buy seltzer from (they are all artisans). I get to bike to work. It’s more like the small town I grew up in as a child than the big city most people think of.

So it’s distressing to think that in my hometown and nearby areas, we’re already having wildfires this year, following an unusually dry winter and hot spring. In fact, this spring has been historically warm, with over 15,000 daily warm temperature records smashed in the month of March alone. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 2012 brought “the warmest March on record” since record-keeping began in 1895. March heat records outpaced cold records by 35 to 1.

Wildfires not only harm the landscape; they pose threats to our health. And they don’t just injure people nearby or those who fight fires, but the smoke travels long distances downwind and can send people with respiratory illnesses to emergency rooms. The recent NYC fires were small-scale, but much larger-scale fires occur across the West and South, as we saw in 2011. These risks are projected to increase under the influence of climate change.

Climate change is caused by carbon pollution— pollution, for example, from industrial coal-fired power plants or from fossil fuel-burning vehicle emissions. Some types of extreme weather events are being influenced and intensified by climate change. These include extreme heat and higher temperatures, more intense precipitation events (both rain and snowfall), and coastal extreme high water (which contribute to flooding).

Climate change has increased the risk of record-breaking extreme weather events that are threatening communities across the country. In 2011, record-breaking extreme events occurred in all 50 states. NRDC’s Extreme Weather Map 2011 shows you where more than 3,000 monthly weather records were broken in 2011 in the US.

The American public increasingly recognizes that extreme weather events are linked to climate change, according to a brand-new Yale University-George Mason University study. Researchers found that 82% of Americans surveyed, “personally experienced one or more types of extreme weather or natural disaster in the past year,” and that two-thirds of respondents agree climate change made these worse.

And the frequency and intensity of some extreme events is likely to continue to worsen in the future, with climate change. If carbon pollution emissions continue unabated, it’s likely the frequency of hot days will increase by a factor of 10 in most regions of the world; that heavy precipitation will occur more often; and that wind speeds of tropical storms will increase. It's likely too, that climate change will intensify drought and that, coupled with extreme heat, wildfire risks will continue to increase.

On Earth Day 2012, I’m grateful that there’s something powerful that I can do (and you can, too) to take action to limit the carbon pollution that causes climate change and sets extreme weather and other health risks in motion. We now have an opportunity to weigh in and support EPA’s first proposed national limits on carbon pollution from new industrial sources. Click here to send a letter voicing your support for these public health safeguards.

At last, we can participate in this huge step forward – toward national standards to limit carbon pollution, which is causing climate change.

EPA’s proposal is a historic step toward protecting public health, and it will help defend all my hometowns – in upstate New York and the Big Apple – from the health-harming effects of climate change.