Op-Ed

Obama: We can no longer delay action on climate change

EVERGLADES SCENE: A fisherman poles his boat in the shallows of Snake Bight in Florida Bay in Everglades National Park.
EVERGLADES SCENE: A fisherman poles his boat in the shallows of Snake Bight in Florida Bay in Everglades National Park. MIAMI HERALD Staff

Last week I spent Earth Day in the Everglades, one of our nation’s greatest national treasures, and saw firsthand what makes its unique landscape so magical — what the poet Emma Lazarus called “the savage splendor of the swamp.” Plus, I got to hang out with Bill Nye the Science Guy.

“There are no other Everglades in the world,” wrote Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who helped preserve it. But climate change is threatening this treasure and the communities that depend on it. That’s what my visit was all about.

Last year, 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record, and 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century. So climate change is real as are its effects: stronger storms, deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons and public-health risks. The surgeon general and I recently met with doctors and nurses and parents who see patients and kids grappling with the health impacts. The Pentagon says that climate change poses an increasing set of risks to our national security.

Those who choose to deny science need only to travel to the Everglades where you can actually see the effects of a changing climate — where rising sea levels endanger a fragile ecosystem, threaten the drinking water of more than 7 million Floridians and pose risks to Florida’s $82-billion tourism industry. We can no longer delay action. That’s why I’ve committed the United States to lead the world in combating this threat.

We’re using more clean energy than ever before. America is No. 1 in wind power, and last year we generated 20 times more electricity from sunlight than we did in all of 2008.

We’ve committed to doubling the pace at which we cut carbon pollution. China has committed, for the first time, to limiting its emissions. This means there’s new hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to prevent the worst impacts of climate change before it’s too late.

And we’re wasting less energy, with more fuel-efficient cars that save us money at the pump and more energy-efficient buildings that save us money on our electricity bills.

These steps will help prevent the worst effects of climate change down the road. But we also need to prepare for the effects of climate change that we’re too late to avoid.

We’ve been working with cities and states to build more resilient infrastructure and restore natural defenses like wetlands. On Wednesday, I announced new actions to protect national parks, public lands and communities that rely on them. We released a report showing that every $1 invested in the National Park Service generates $10 for the economy. In 2014, almost 300 million visitors to our National Parks spent almost $16 billion, supporting 277,000 jobs. So protecting our parks is the smart thing to do for our economy.

That’s part of why I’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. In the Everglades, we’ve invested more than $2.2 billion in restoration efforts, and I’ve proposed another $240 million this year. I also announced $25 million in public and private money for restoration projects at national parks, part of a broader effort we’ve launched to encourage every American to “Find Your Park.”

This fall, we’ll give every fourth-grader in America an “Every Kid in a Park” Pass — good for free admission to all our public lands, for them and their families, for an entire year. Because no matter who you are or where you live, our parks, monuments, lands and waters are your birthright as Americans.

I’m going to continue doing everything I can to prepare and protect America from the worst effects of a changing climate. Because the folks I met in Florida don’t have time to deny climate change — they’re busy dealing with it. In fact, five years ago, local leaders formed the bipartisan Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, an agreement to work together to fight climate change that’s become a model for the country and the world.

They understand that this is an economic imperative, and our responsibility to the world we leave our children.

Now it’s up to all of us to ensure that our country’s beautiful God-given landscapes remain the birthright of all Americans for generations to come.

Barack Obama is president of the United States.

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