11/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

On Climate Change: It's Not Time to Throw In the Towel

I spent last week in New York at the UN Special Session on Climate Change and in Pittsburgh at the G20. The really good news from Climate Week is that everybody wants a deal to cut carbon emissions and jump start a clean energy future. The bad news is that just a few of the richest and most influential countries are still blocking progress. The US now risks being seen as the sole obstructionist to a global treaty on climate change. It is not time to throw in the towel. Instead, it is time to intensify and personalize our appeals for action.

There were breakthroughs and setbacks this week.

In the run-up to the international talks in New York and Pittsburgh, Ceres and its partners mobilized 181 investors with $13 trillion in assets to call for strong climate action by the US and other governments around the world. Move over, Southern Company and Peabody Coal -- you've got competition.

On Monday, September 21, citizens from 120 countries joined hands across national boundaries for a Global Wake-Up Call organized by Avaaz and the TckTckTck global campaign for climate action. If you only click on one link in this blog, click on the Sept 21 hub. You'll cry or laugh, but you won't feel hopeless. People are stirring.

The citizens cried out and some politicians listened. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown committed to personally attend the Copenhagen climate meeting in December and pressed for $100 billion in financing to help developing nations cope with climate impacts. He set a high standard for other world leaders. China President Hu Jintao and Japan Prime Minister Hashimoto made significant new commitments to action on climate change. Japan's new government wasted no time in announcing more ambitious short term carbon reduction targets moving from a pledge of 8% to a 25% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020. China put a new proposal on the table to reduce its carbon intensity and India also made a new proposal to reduce its growth in emissions.

President Barack Obama worked to shift the conversation from Copenhagen and the Senate climate bill to a proposal for G20 member states to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, a step the US estimates would reduce global fossil fuel emissions by 12 per cent. This is a very positive step but the White House can't run away from the UN and G20 conversation. The subsidies proposal disproportionately affects India, Russia, and China and it fails to address the issues that are central to a global treaty to reduce carbon emissions worldwide.

The United States must pledge to binding short-term emissions reductions and to significant financial assistance to help developing countries limit their own emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Everybody knows this is the way forward. It is not a terribly hard path forward. Emissions have already fallen in the past two years and the US now could easily make a much stronger pledge to reduce its emissions by 25% from 1990 levels by 2020. We are spending over $130 billion on Afghanistan alone. Surely we can shift a large portion of this to help the most vulnerable nations coping with global warming

We also saw a report from the United Nations Environment Programme this week with the latest projected climate impacts . If you're not already losing sleep, you will be after reading these highlights. If you can't stomach reading more UN stats, just read one line by President Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldives who opened his speech at the UN Special Summit on Climate Change with this heartfelt appeal: "We will not live. We will die. Our country will not exist."

It is time to try something different. It is definitely not time to throw in the towel. No way. It is time to get much more intense about our demands. When you make your phone calls and send your personal letters to the White House and Senate, make your contact personal. Include a photo of a child you love. Cry or scream or plead to the person on the phone. Go to your elected officials and just demand an in-person meeting and take all your friends, neighbors and their children. This is not the moment for being polite. If you're a young person, sign up for Energy Action's Powershift events and organize campus teach-ins with Focus the Nation. And whatever your age may be, you can host a 1Sky Climate Action Party from October 1-3.

Don't act alone. We need more people. All the talk of cap & trade, climate-related derivatives, offsets and renewable portfolios has put the public to sleep or worse. Cut through the complexity by inviting just one person to sit down with you and listen to your fears and hopes. Ask that person to be part of our campaigns.

I'm going to stop acting normal. We need to talk to our cousins and neighbors, and we need to softly tell them that everything is at stake. They have a chance to help change the course of history. If we don't start talking to people who aren't yet with us, we risk becoming professional advocates: routine, predictable, and dispassionate. We must protect ourselves against the dark vision of rising seas and temperatures, but not by numbly going through the motions with our actions and alerts. The times call for more risk-taking. I am asking myself this question -- how much will I put on the line for this fight? I think all of us need to pause, be quiet, and think about what really matters. And with all the love we can muster, we must take more risks.

And we must both push and support our president. President Obama has to change the game. He, too, must take risks. He does not have to be predictable. He can offer his own legislative proposal on climate change, similar to his campaign pledge for a cap & dividend approach but now with stronger short-term targets. He can tell Baucus, Boxer, Kerry and Reid to expect his full support for a more ambitious bill in the Senate, and he can insist on some changes in the bill that ensure its integrity. If the President pushes for a bill that is fair, ambitious and binding and returns more money from carbon polluters to regular citizens, he can avoid the right-wing clamor about energy taxes and score a political as well as environmental victory.

Here is my suggestion: On October 24, the entire world will again try to wake up elected officials. Be part of it. There are many important dates between now and December when world leaders gather in Copenhagen but this is the day of action for groups everywhere. On October 24, organize or join an action and don't be predictable. Do something unexpected. Go to and help shake the politicians into action. This is not over.