The State of the Climate
An assessment of climate change and policy in the United States
January 24, 2008
As the United States approaches the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the most dangerous and difficult challenge of our time remains largely unaddressed. Global climate change continues unabated. The United States is the nation that is most responsible for the problem and most capable of contributing to the solution. Yet today, the United States stands virtually alone among developed nations in refusing to accept the need for decisive action.
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Consequently, we regret to report that the state of the nation's climate policy is poor, and the climate and the ecosystems that depend upon it are showing increasing signs of disruption. Global climate change now threatens not only the environment, but also our national security, our economic stability, and our public health and safety. We can no longer discuss the State of the Union without assessing the state of the nation's climate.
The growing consequences of climate change have not appeared without warning. Physicist John Tyndall first identified the connection between the greenhouse effect and climate change in the 1860s. Swedish geochemist Svante Arrhenius predicted in 1896 that the burning of fossil fuels would result in global warming.
During the last century, American scientists including David Keeling and Roger Revelle used actual measurements to confirm that carbon dioxide concentrations were rising. Keeling, Revelle and others began expressing their concerns about global warming to U.S. presidents of both parties in the 1960s, a half century ago.
Now, after 20 years of assessing evidence in the most thorough scientific undertaking in history, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded unequivocally that climate change is underway, that it is primarily the result of our consumption of fossil fuels, and that time is growing short if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences on a global scale. As United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the chair of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, both have said, this is our defining moment.
In some areas, there have been positive developments during the past year.
In quick succession last November and December, the IPCC released the last of its 2007 reports; representatives of 130 nations gathered at Bali to begin discussions on how the international community will collaborate after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012; and Congress passed a new energy bill with several provisions important to climate stabilization. Universities, nongovernmental organizations and research institutions have proposed hundreds of new policies and programs, including many the President can implement quickly to put America on the path to a clean and prosperous 21st century economy.
To date, more than 780 of the nation's mayors representing more than 77 million Americans have signed the Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement – a pledge to cut emissions by at least the amount required by the Kyoto Protocol. The majority of states and a growing number of the nation's counties have implemented or are developing climate action plans. Major corporations and investors recognize the financial liabilities of unabated climate change and are instituting new business models while supporting climate-friendly national policies. Today, climate change is emerging as an important issue in the 2008 presidential campaign. Several of the candidates have issued detailed climate action platforms. Those who have not should.
Our nation has the ideas and many of the tools necessary to create a highly efficient economy powered by low-carbon, renewable, domestic resources, able to provide this and future generations with security, opportunity and stewardship. We are ready for comprehensive, prompt and transformative climate action.
These positive developments are overwhelmed, however, by the growth in greenhouse gas emissions. Our emissions in the United States are among the highest in the world, roughly twice the per capita emissions of Western Europe or Japan. Yet the people of Western Europe and Japan outscore the people of the United States on several key quality-of-life indicators, including life expectancy and infant mortality. Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are climbing rapidly to levels beyond those ever witnessed by human beings, destabilizing the climate in ways we cannot predict and may not be able to control. The early signs of climate change are appearing much more quickly than predicted. These signs are not restricted to the Arctic and Antarctic. We are seeing troubling patterns emerging in the United States that are consistent with the predicted impacts of climate change. For example:
Several critical developments must take place by the time the 44th President delivers the State of the Union address one year from now.
It is our hope and expectation that when the next President of the United States reports on the state of the union, we will hear that our nation is firmly on the path to climate stability, to a new economy that has learned to prosper within the limits of the Earth's natural systems, to energy independence and security, and to renewed respect for the United States around the world.
If this is our defining moment, then let us be known as a people of courage, morality, vision and goodwill – a people who gladly accept the responsibility of ensuring that the America of tomorrow is even better than the America of today. That commitment to the future is required of us if we wish to keep faith with those who founded our nation, with those who have sacrificed for it and with those around the world who look to the United States of America for hope.
Note: This State of the Climate message was delivered to the White House on Jan. 24, 2008, in advance of President George W. Bush’s final State of the Union address. It was prepared by the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), an initiative at the University of Colorado Denver's Wirth Chair to create a 100-day climate action plan for the next President of the United States (www.climateactionproject.com). Signatures on this statement do not imply endorsement of the PCAP plan or its contents. Signatories are representing themselves, not the institutions with which they are affiliated.
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