The much anticipated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) update was released on Friday. It points to unequivocal human impact on climate change -- driven predominately by burning fossil fuels.
Most of us have already made peace with that part, and are ready to change -- 60 percent of Americans agree clean renewable energy is the future. But our willingness to do the right thing for ourselves and the planet is being undermined by the slow response of our own Environmental Protection Agency.
Last week the EPA announced tough new limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. Which at first glance looks great, but these lower emissions only apply to new plants.
So while it may seem as though President Obama is making good on his promise to finally get serious about climate change. These tougher emission standards are not an example of the environmentally sustainable leap for all mankind we were led to believe. They're more of a baby step, because there will only be two new power plants firing up this year, with another couple in the future.
Meanwhile the hundred biggest, dirtiest, oldest power plants get to keep doing what they do best -- polluting our atmosphere as if it were their own private endless trash receptacle. There's no charge for trash pick-up or storage, let alone adding the health costs of coal-fired pollution onto the tab. Almost 40 percent of U.S carbon emissions come from power plants, with half of that amount coming from these dirtiest 100.
Some climate scientists dub our dwindling store of fossil fuels unburnable carbon: carbon that should be left in the ground if we are to keep to the 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase most climate scientists agree we could cope with -- sort of -- if we acted now, and made sure we curbed all further emissions.
Last year was a record carbon dump with over 30 billion tons of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere. It puts us right in line with the IPCC finding that climate change is happening faster than anticipated.
So the EPA taking a small step in the right direction is all well and good, but these new standards seem like a tiny Band-Aid slapped onto a big gaping wound that keeps festering into our future. Short-term: Burning coal causes asthma in children, it releases mercury into the atmosphere to be absorbed by fish, eaten by us, and retard our unborn babies' neural development. But long-term it could be damaging on a much larger scale than inhalers and learning difficulties.
Gina McCarthy, the new head of the EPA, will announce tougher emissions standards for older power plants next June. But already the coal industry and friends are screaming about a "war on coal." They are running around like Chicken Little crying that the sky is falling. No it's not falling, but it's getting sick, and the truth is we cannot afford to keep emitting CO2 with such carte blanche. The facts are in, it's time for everyone to make this new carbon reality their friend.
Of course, maybe none of climate change's dreaded impacts will happen. I, for one, do not know the future. But the precautionary principle -- the hot meme of 2001 -- would be a good one to employ right about now. Even if you are not unequivocally convinced that all these scientists could be right, not taking action to ensure our future well being would be -- well, idiotic.
I will not be here when the worst is supposed to happen, but my nine-year-old daughter will be. With her birth I became a major stakeholder in the planet's future.