Obama must act on climate change

Posted: February 13, 2013

By George Jugovic Jr.

This weekend I will be camping in the heart of the Pennsylvania Wilds, in the north-central part of the state, to attend an annual wild game feed. The Wilds provide more than two million acres of lush forests, mountain trails, and cold streams in which to be active.

Peering out into the Kinzua Gorge from the Kinzua Bridge Skywalk brings a lot into focus in February: It raises questions about how much of what you look down on from 301 feet will remain for future generations. Simply put, how much of the wildlife that calls Pennsylvania home will continue to commune with us in the face of a changing climate?

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has just released a report, "Wildlife in a Warming World: Confronting the Climate Crisis," that speaks to the deteriorating outlook for some of America's most iconic species including moose, sandhill cranes, and sea turtles. As Superstorm Sandy demonstrated, extreme weather fueled by climate change can turn coastal habitats upside down.

Of the 72 national wildlife refuges along the Atlantic coast, many of them an easy drive from Philadelphia, 35 were temporarily closed because of the storm's devastation, not to mention the widespread destruction of property and infrastructure. Where our avian friends are concerned, a recent study looked at 305 species of birds in North America and found that 177 have expanded their range northward by an average of 35 miles in the last four decades. Scientists tell us that if we don't act now, temperatures will rise 7 to 11 degrees within the lifetime of a child born today.

How should we confront this crisis? We can take our cue from Teddy Roosevelt, our 26th president, who said, "The health and vitality of our people are at least as well worth conserving as their forests, waters, lands, and minerals, and in this great work the national government must bear the most important part." President Obama echoed that sentiment in his recent inaugural address: "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that our failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. ... That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure - our forests and waterways; our croplands and snow-capped peaks."

The NWF report outlines specific steps the president can take to meet the climate-change challenge, such as a transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy, including offshore wind, solar power, and next-generation biofuels. Obama has already increased vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and moved to limit carbon pollution from new power plants. Now, he needs to use the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants, the country's largest source of carbon pollution. Also, the president needs to safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation, and to help communities prepare for climate impacts like flooding and extreme weather with solutions that include green infrastructure.

We have a moral responsibility to confront climate change and we call on Obama to act immediately for the benefit of future generations.

George Jugovic Jr. is president

and chief executive officer of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture). E-mail him at jugovic@pennfuture.org.

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