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America Is No Longer Debating Climate Change

By Frances Beinecke (Vice) - July 7, 2014

This week, the Heartland Institute is holding a conference on climate change in Las Vegas, which they’ve dubbed “the biggest gathering of global warming skeptics in the world.” If ever there was an event perfect for a mockumentary, it’s this disinformation party.

It reminds me of John Oliver’s recent take on climate change on Last Week Tonight. In response to an opinion poll on climate change, he said, “You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking which number is bigger — 15 or five? Or, do owls exist? Or, are there hats?”

Thankfully, public opinion is largely on the side of fact. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 70 percent of Americans accept climate change as real, and perhaps more importantly, want their leaders to combat it. This includes a majority of Republicans.

Many of the Americans with whom I speak want to combat climate change because they view it as a moral obligation — they want to protect generations to come. They also want action, of course, because the facts on global warming are clear: After decades of warnings, climate change is here and now, and doing serious damage.

It’s leading to heat waves, drought, sea-level rise, floods, superstorms, and other types of destructive, costly, and deadly extreme-weather events. In 2012 alone, extreme weather cost our country more than $140 billion; taxpayers picked up nearly $100 billion of the cost of cleanup, according to an NRDC analysis.

And we’ve identified the No. 1 culprit: carbon pollution from the burning of fossil fuels. Here in the US, power plants kick out 40 percent of the country’s carbon pollution, making them its single largest source.

Cutting carbon pollution from power plants could stimulate $52 billion to $121 billion in cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy between now and 2020.

Right now we limit mercury, arsenic, lead, and other dangerous pollutants from power plants, but somehow there has been no national limit to how much carbon pollution these plants may spew into our air. That’s just wrong. It’s time to close the pollution loophole and put in place the common-sense safeguards we need to reduce the dangerous carbon pollution that’s warming the planet and threatening our future.

Thankfully, President Barack Obama is doing just that. He instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to create the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

In response, EPA released the “Clean Power Plan,” which will accelerate the move to a modern, clean energy system to power our future — one that relies on wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy. It also means new investment in efficiency, so we can do more with less, save money, and make our workers more competitive.

This effort will protect our communities, our air, our water, and our health. It also creates an opportunity to drive innovation, investment, and jobs. Done right, cutting carbon pollution from power plants could stimulate $52 billion to $121 billion in cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy between now and 2020, and could save US families and businesses more than $37 billion on their electricity bills by the same year. That’s about $100 a year in savings for the average household.

Get ready for more false claims by big polluters. Read more here.

So it’s no wonder that the support for this is broad and growing. That 70 percent of Americans who believe climate change is real includes all sorts of people — from business to labor to military to religious groups. We’re talking about everyone from the Hip Hop Caucus to the Garden Club of America. Everyone is involved.

As for the last remaining climate skeptics, they can have their fun in Las Vegas this week — it looks like temperatures could reach 110 degrees, so I hope they stay hydrated — but the fact is that their numbers are dwindling swiftly. And I can only hope the media covers it the way John Oliver advises, by reporting that the skeptics are wrong, not just opinionated.

Despite the Heartland Institute’s best efforts, America is no longer debating climate change. We’re now working to solve it. Folks can help make sure what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas by voicing their support for EPA’s Clean Power Plan today.

Frances Beinecke is the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.