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Take a Moment for Earth Day, Our Planet Is Depending on Us

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In 1999, I participated in my first beach cleanup with I Love A Clean San Diego and the San Diego Surfrider Foundation. The San Diego region in many ways is defined by our relationship with the ocean. It's our front yard and a beautiful playground for families and visitors. It should be clean, safe, and inviting. In 2000, when I was first elected to the San Diego City Council, the city averaged one sewer spill into the ocean a day, and these spills closed our beaches to residents and tourists alike. San Diego was infamous for its beach closures at the time. By the end of my eight-year service, we had reduced the occurrence of sewer spills by 80 percent.

Earth Day should encourage us to reflect on what we are doing to make our planet a more sustainable and livable place. The work we've done in San Diego to make our oceanfront cleaner and safer can be a model for other communities across the country. A healthy ocean is vital to our economy and well-being. We need clean and healthy oceans to sustain tourism and fisheries. In Congress, I am focused on the effects of climate change including ocean acidification and sea-level rise -- both of which are threats to healthy oceans that sustain life on- and off-shore.

As we emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, more of that carbon dioxide goes into the ocean. One-third of all CO2 emitted is absorbed by our oceans, taking in as much as 22 million tons of CO2 a day. As the ocean absorbs more CO2, the ocean becomes more acidic, and acidic water affects all ocean life especially plankton and coral reefs. It poses a real threat to animals higher on the food chain, including fish. One out of six American jobs depends on our oceans. We need healthy oceans to sustain our planet, and we need to be taking action to slow down the rate of ocean acidification.

Sea-level rise also poses a real concern to coastal communities like mine. As the Earth warms, glaciers and ice caps melt, and we are trending toward faster melting. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, by the middle of the next century, Glacier National Park in Montana will see most of their grand glaciers disappear. And if the Greenland ice sheet completely melts, we would see a sea-level rise of 6.5 meters, impacting populations, infrastructure, and unique natural habitats along our coastlines. One of my bills in Congress would work to reduce the emissions of super pollutants like methane and black carbon, slowing the rate of warming.

As the Climate Task Force chair of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition in the House of Representatives and member of the Safe Climate Caucus, I am focused on mitigating the impacts of climate change. If we don't act, storms will become more dangerous with ocean surges and flooding reaching further inland. We need to start preparing for this new future now, before it's too late. That's why a second proposal of mine would provide communities with resources to improve resiliency in the face of this increasingly extreme weather. We have to provide the right incentives to transition to a clean energy economy and prepare for the effects of climate change on our lives.

In San Diego, the San Diego Foundation, UC San Diego's Environment and Sustainability Initiative, and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography teamed up to look at how a changing climate would impact our region. Their analysis was that by 2050, sea-levels would rise by 12-18 inches putting communities at greater risk of flooding, increasingly intense wildfires would damage ecosystems and harm the local economy, and water resources would be strained further with drought a more common event.

Even if Congress is stalling on this critical issue, I ask all of your to do something on Earth Day to make our planet a better place. I am going to continue pushing for action on climate change in Congress. We must be good stewards of our Earth and maintain our home for future generations. At stake is the health of our planet, the health of our communities, and the health of our children.

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Scott Peters represents the 52nd District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives, which encompasses Coronado, Poway, and large portions of the City of San Diego.

This post is part of a series from the Safe Climate Caucus. The Caucus is comprised of 38 members of the House of Representatives who have committed to ending the conspiracy of silence in Congress about the dangers of climate change. For more information, visit the Safe Climate Caucus website and like the Safe Climate Caucus on Facebook.

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