Millions of people in Southern California were under an excessive heat warning a few weeks ago. The Los Angeles Unified School District cancelled outdoor sporting events and more than 100 San Diego schools sent children home early to shield them from the heat. Californians weren’t the only ones coping with high temperatures. Last month was the hottest September on record and the entire summer was the hottest globally.
These shattered records confirm once again that climate change is threatening our health and communities right now. The danger will only increase unless we confront this problem at its source: fossil fuel pollution.
We know how to do it, and our nation has already begun: 3.4 million Americans are on the job cleaning up power plants, helping generate wind and solar power, and cutting energy waste in our homes and offices. This is a good start, but we must do more in order to protect our families from the worst impacts of climate change.
It is time for America to set a national goal to stamp out our carbon footprint—to become carbon neutral—in our lifetime.
This objective is clear and achievable. As I outline in my new book, The World We Create: A Message of Hope for a Planet in Peril, there is a path forward.
1. Reduce Carbon Pollution from Power Plants
Power plants kick out 40 percent of US carbon emissions—the single largest source in the nation. The Clean Power Plan that President Obama proposed in June calls for reducing the carbon pollution from our power plants by 26 percent by 2020 and by 30 percent by 2030. We know we can do better than that, as many states are already proving. By setting the first-ever limits on power plant carbon emissions, the president's plan gets us moving in the right direction.
2. Invest in Energy Efficiency
By investing in efficiency, we’ll do more with less waste. Over the past 35 years, we've cut our energy use in half, as a share of our economic output, saving trillions of dollars. Going forward, we can do even better. Technology and innovation advance over time at an accelerating rate. Progress builds on itself. By getting just 4 percent more efficient each year, we'll cut our energy use 65 percent by 2050, while our economy continues to grow and becomes leaner and more competitive worldwide.
We’re going to double the gas mileage of our new-car fleet by 2025, thanks to agreements reached between the Obama administration and our nation’s auto makers. We need to keep improving. We can cut gasoline use 80 percent in our cars and light trucks by 2050, according to a 2013 study by the National Academy of Sciences. That means raising the efficiency of cars powered by conventional internal combustion engines. And it means putting more hybrid electric cars like the Toyota Prius on the road, along with more plug-in electric cars like the Chevy Volt and all-electric cars like the Ford Focus Electric.
3. Expand Renewable Power
We'll always need energy. We need to communicate, too, but we’re not stuck with hand gestures and smoke signals. There are better ways to power our future than by digging fossil fuel from the ground and setting it on fire. The Department of Energy study from 2012 envisions renewable power providing 80 percent of our electricity by mid-century. We have to get there sooner, and it's clear that we can. Solar and wind power account for 44 percent of all new electricity generating capacity in the US from 2012 to 2013. No one should doubt we can get most of our electricity from renewable power – and the sooner the better.
4. Preserve Forests and Wetlands
Healthy forests and wetlands stand sentry against the dangers of climate change, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away in plants, root systems and soil. About 16 percent of our carbon pollution gets tucked away each year in our public and private forests. Mangroves, salt marshes and sea grass lock away carbon at up to five times the rate of tropical forests. Healthy wetlands and forests can help us become carbon-neutral in our lifetime. As we work to build the low-carbon economy of the future, these natural systems will help to absorb the carbon pollution we produce – for as long as we still produce it.
The US can become carbon neutral in our lifetimes. In the process, we will put millions of Americans to work, make our companies more competitive, and shield our communities from extreme weather. And we will honor our obligation to leave the world a better place for future generations. We just have to start now. Click here to tell the Obama Administration your support strong limits on carbon pollution.