Defining the Contours of our Century


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President Obama addressed the UN summit leaders today, imploring each to do their part in combating global climate change. “Nobody gets a pass… We have a responsibility to lead,” he stated before 120 heads of state.

Today’s Climate Summit was not a meeting to bind treaties or draft legislation to reduce carbon emissions. Instead it was an opportunity for world leaders to familiarize themselves with the impending danger of climate change and to exchange ideas in advance of next year’s UN Climate Change Conference to take place in Paris. The hope is that today’s gathering will motivate dignitaries to take action in their own countries.

Obama outlined a plan to meet carbon-cutting goals within the next six years and urged the international community to join the United States in these efforts. He also announced measures that would help developing countries to strengthen their resilience to climate change, noting that “no nation is immune” to the deadly weather events we have seen in the last several years.

It may not be easy to garner political will in favor of fighting climate change; bizarrely, the topic is still controversial in the U.S. Many political leaders seem to scoff in the face of science, despite the fact that the scientific community concedes that climate change is human-driven. Bill McKibben, founder of and one of the leading organizers of the People’s Climate March, was disappointed that Obama didn’t promise enough: “If the President really wants collective ambition,” he said in a statement following the summit, “he’s got to show a little more can-do spirit from the world’s leading economy… Today’s boasts about his climate efforts ring hollow in the face of America passing Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil and gas producer.”

While McKibben makes a good point, this global conversation needs to start somewhere, and it’s starting here, on American soil. I am proud of that. Our leaders have a role to play, but so do we, as citizens of America and of the planet. It’s important that we act. The People’s Climate March was a solid first step, but we need to carry that momentum with us to the polls. Register to vote, and then vote – for leaders who will take action to make positive changes rather than those who will be bought out by corporations with ties to Big Oil.

In the President’s own words, climate change will “define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other” issue. I agree, and we have no time to lose.