We Hold the Key to Copenhagen

"We the People" will have to act up if we want a global agreement that averts climate chaos.

Few believe the Copenhagen Summit will result in a deal strong enough to keep climate change within safe limits.

Little wonder. Global warming
could be one of the toughest issues the world has ever faced, less
because of the technical challenges than the politics. That's why the
growing climate movement
that has assembled alongside the official delegations in Copenhagen is
so important to watch -- its success could determine if world leaders feel
enough heat to take action.

What makes the politics of this moment so challenging? Unlike other
critical issues, combating climate change requires that we take action
based on science, before we see much damage. If we wait until the
effects of long-term pollution are fully felt, climate scientists tell
us, we will have passed critical thresholds
that will make it difficult, if not impossible, to turn down the global
thermostat. Already, we can see the beginnings of the effects of
greenhouse gas pollution, but all the models tells us that these will
accelerate with more flooding, rising seas, crop failures, food
shortages and drought conditions like those of the dust bowl era.

Although many of these changes are happening faster than expected, it's not too late.
Climate scientists say we can yet avert the direst consequences if we
halt the increase in pollution by 2015, then bring it down sharply.
That means taking action now.

Yet, politicians worldwide have short-term reasons to pass this
hot-potato issue off to future generations. After all, "cheap"
coal-fired electricity concentrates high profits in the hands of a few
companies -- who hire high-powered lobbyists and make big campaign
contribution -- while the costs of climate damage is distributed to all
the rest of us.

And dealing with the crisis requires massive investments in a
transition to clean energy. While such investments will benefit
economies in the long run, in the short term they will cost taxpayers
money. And entrenched, powerful interests -- from the oil and gas industry
to mega-banks and agribusiness -- use their money and connections to make
sure they're at the front of the line for government handouts and
bailouts. Some are even funding the think tanks and AstroTurf front groups that foster confusion and doubt about climate science.

In poorer countries,
citizens demand the right to move out of poverty. If the wealthier
countries that have grown rich from years of polluting use of fossil
fuels won't step up, they won't allow their governments to make tough
sacrifices either.

Although every community, every nation and every family stands to
lose without action on global warming, the political leaders gathered
in Copenhagen to negotiate a climate treaty haven't felt heat from
their own citizens -- at least not yet.

The good news is that around the world there are climate heroes, those doing what they can -- putting up solar panels, standing in the way of tar sands development, promoting green jobs, cutting their own household carbon footprints and promoting wind power instead of mountaintop removal. And they are applying pressure for broader action.

Young people, for instance, are mobilizing themselves into a powerful force for change,
calling themselves a "survival" movement. Don't underestimate these
youths. Their energy and hard work helped elect our country's first
African-American president.

But it isn't only the youth who are stepping up. People in all sectors of society are coming to see that action is needed. Four thousand citizens in 38 countries around the world gathered
recently to consider in depth all sides of the climate issue and what
should be done about it. At the end, nine out of ten urged urgent
action out of the Copenhagen talks.

Elected officials can't get the job done unless they feel the heat at
home. That puts a special responsibility on Americans to see through
the spin, inform ourselves, and take action. The world is waiting for
leadership from the United States, the country with one of the highest
rates of greenhouse gas pollution. The future of our planet may hinge
on whether "we the sovereign people" of the United States insist that
our leaders step up to this global threat and partner with the rest of
the world to arrive at an agreement that keeps the disruption of our
climate within safe limits.

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This article was written for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.