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February 06, 2013

The Day We Move Forward on Climate

On Sunday, February 17, I'll be joining tens of thousands of Americans in Washington, D.C., for Forward on Climate -- the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Our goal is to convince President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, but we also are asking him to make that decision the cornerstone of a positive, solutions-oriented climate legacy for his second term.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've spoken with thousands of Sierra Club members and supporters, all across the country, who are fired up about the rally because they know we're on the frontline of the movement to stop climate disruption. But this is more than a battle to stop something bad -- it's a fight for something better. That's because we're also on the cusp of a clean energy revolution that will transform our nation, slash carbon pollution, and turn this climate disaster around. We need President Obama to commit to that fight with all the ambition and determination he can bring.

The clean energy technologies we need to reverse climate disruption already exist. They are affordable, competitive, and ready for primetime. Already, we've doubled our wind power to 60 GW (enough to power nearly 15 million homes), and we generate five times more solar power than we did just a few years ago. That's explosive growth, but we're just getting started. Renewables can power America, and they can do it without climate-polluting gases or any other kind of pollution.

Here's how President Obama can make that happen:

First, he must follow through and build on one of the biggest accomplishments of his first term: Holding polluters accountable for the costs of their pollution to our health, to our economy, and to our climate. That means directing the EPA to finish the job it has already begun on cleaning up power plant pollution, including carbon and mercury pollution from new sources, coal ash, and cross-state air pollution.  

Second, President Obama needs to master the art of saying "no" -- and making it stick -- to bad ideas that would condemn future generations to the effects of runaway climate disruption. His final decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be only the first big test of whether he he's truly serious about climate change. There's no excuse for blasting the mountains of Appalachia to scrape the last bits of coal, drilling in our Arctic wilderness, building export terminals to ship coal and natural gas overseas, or continuing to allow the proliferation of under-regulated fracking for oil and gas.

Third, the president needs to permanently shift the debate about our public lands from "how can the mining and drilling industries best exploit them?" to "how can their true owners -- the American people -- most benefit from them?"  For more than a century, we've allowed oil, coal, and other extractive industries to treat our public lands as their personal piggy banks. That must stop for two reasons. First, and most obviously, because the toxic pollution that results is hurting us and destroying our climate. Second, because the climate change that we've already locked ourselves into is going to put intense pressure on all of our public lands and remaining wilderness habitats, which means we need to preserve as much as we can while we can.

Fourth, the president must do all he can to help preserve the hard-won momentum for renewable energy and energy efficiency of his first term. Start by promoting innovative financing and investment avenues that make it easier for individuals and businesses to install clean energy and adopt energy-efficiency measures.

Finally, we must recognize that the effects of climate disruption are already here in the form of droughts, deadly heat waves, wildfires, and powerful storms. We need to protect communities from these climate disasters and plan a robust and just response for those that do happen.

The president can take these important, specific actions right now to show the American people -- and the world -- that he's serious about the climate crisis. But they're not enough. The final thing we need is both the most crucial and the most intangible. We need Barack Obama at his absolute, formidable best.

We need the Barack Obama who was able to inspire millions to believe in the possibility of change and the power of hope. We need that leader to passionately and eloquently show the American people that solving the climate crisis is not a burden but an incredible opportunity. We need him to inspire a nationwide groundswell for clean energy, energy efficiency, and a 21st-century economy. And we need him to bring every iota of his considerable political skill to bear on forging bipartisan solutions to curbing carbon pollution, and to call out those who persist in trying to hold us back.  

When the president talks about the destructive power of a warming planet, no one has to wonder what that destruction looks like. We've seen it -- from the hurricane-ravaged Northeast to the drought-stricken Midwest to the fire-scarred West. It's all too real and scary. But it's hope and change -- not fear or doubt -- that will win the day. See you in Washington on the 17th.

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