New Carbon Pollution Level Confirms We Have Entered the Era of Extreme Weather

Scientists recently reported that the level of carbon in the atmosphere has passed 400 parts per million. Carbon pollution causes climate change, and many experts believe we need to bring this level down to 350 ppm in order to hold off the worst impacts of climate disruption. And yet we continue to march into the danger zone.

Already the signs are appearing in our communities. Climate change intensifies drought, storms, tidal surges, and heat waves, and these events have exacted a staggering price in the past few years.

Last June, a freak storm called a “derecho” left 22 dead and 5 million people without power from Illinois to Virginia. Another potent storm dumped up to 10 inches of rain in Minnesota and Wisconsin, causing $80 million to Duluth’s public infrastructure. July 2012 became the hottest month on record for the contiguous United States, and 123 deaths were directly tied to the high temperatures. The heat dried out soil across the nation and contributed to the worst drought in 50 years. More than 2,000 counties were declared drought disaster areas and U.S. farmers received $12 billion in insurance payments for crop damage. And all this occurred before Superstorm Sandy struck.

This is not the climate we were born into. Instead we have entered the era of extreme weather.

We have profoundly altered the planet’s chemistry, and if we do not heed the alarm sounded by 400 ppm, we will lock ourselves into more intense droughts, wildfires, and Superstorm Sandys.

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Damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in Rockaway, Queens.

The good news is we know how to arrest this problem and reduce carbon pollution. We just need President Obama to lead our nation in the right direction. We need him to make a public commitment to climate action and move American down a cleaner energy path.

Here’s how it starts. The president can use existing authority to curb carbon from power plants—the largest source of U.S. global warming pollution. Last year he proposed limits on new power plants, and now he needs to finalize them. He must also propose limits for existing power plants. NRDC has outlined a flexible, cost-effective approach to these standards that would cut carbon pollution by 26 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels and generate between $25 and $60 billion in public health and climate benefits by 2020.

President Obama must also reject the use of the dirtiest fuels—the ones that pump the most carbon pollution into our atmosphere. Producing tar sands oil, for instance, generates three times as much greenhouse gas emissions as producing conventional crude. That’s why the president must reject the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico for export.

As the New York Times editorial board wrote over the weekend, hitting the 400 ppm level increases the pressure on President Obama to demonstrate leadership. I urge you to raise your voices and call on President Obama to respond to what the planet is telling us. We need bold actions in order to end the era of extreme weather and usher in a cleaner, more sustainable future for our children. And we need them now.

Photo credit: anique

About the Authors

Frances Beinecke

Former President

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