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'Rising to Meet the Tide': A Letter to Obama on Climate Change

Gary Houser

"The threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing. Our generation's response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it – boldly, swiftly, and together – we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe... the time we have to reverse this tide is running out." —President Obama's speech to the UN in 2009

"There are potential irreversible effects of melting the sea ice... We'll begin to release methane hydrates... There is enough there to cause as much warming as all the coal in the world... It's not clear that civilization could survive that extreme climate change." —Dr. James Hansen, renowned climate scientist. (interview for documentary "Arctic Methane Tipping Point?" )

Dear President Obama,

History has conspired to place you at the presidential helm during a turning point moment of unprecedented global significance. The climate crisis preceded your presidency and will still be with us when it ends. But time is quickly running out to prevent this crisis from escalating beyond human control. The staggering record loss of Arctic ice seen this year is a clear sign that the forces of climate change have been set in motion. A growing chorus of scientists and experts believe we are sitting on the knife's edge of  humanity's ability to mitigate or stop the growing threat.

When you chose to open your presidential campaign in Springfield, Illinois in 2008, you made a bold statement about your aspirations to the greatness of an Abraham Lincoln. The mark of a great president is to recognize the moral issue that transcends all others and take the actions which push history in a positive direction. Lincoln did so on the issue of slavery. In a speech to Congress in 1862, he said: "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew."

The call that beckons you is to recognize the unique, all-encompassing urgency associated with the need to prevent a global climate catastrophe. There is no higher mission you could possibly perform than to "rise to the occasion" by using your oratorical gifts to inspire humanity to turn back from the brink of oblivion.

While world attention has focused on human-generated carbon dioxide, a sleeping giant has been stirring in the Arctic. Frozen methane is thawing and releasing a global warming gas at least 30 times more powerful than CO2. There is more carbon energy in this methane than all the world's reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas combined. As both open water and methane push Arctic temperatures higher, even more methane is subject to thawing and release—creating the frightening prospect of an unstoppable "runaway" chain reaction, or feedback loop. In a frightening worst case scenario, the planet could be pressed toward a mass extinction event comparable to earlier ones that some scientists attribute (video) to large scale methane release.

In your 2009 speech to the UN you shared these uplifting words: "It is work that will not be easy... But difficulty is no excuse for complacency. Unease is no excuse for inaction... It is a journey that will require each of us to persevere through setback, and fight for every inch of progress."

It is clear why every single "inch of progress" has become a "fight". Though the survival of life on earth surely transcends partisan politics, a fossil fuel industry blinded and rendered senseless by corporate bottomlines has invested mountains of money to attack climate science and confuse the public. Are you willing to "persevere through setback" and speak truthfully by exposing these actions as nothing less than crimes against current and future generations?

History shows that the American people have responded positively to presidents who courageously took the moral high ground in response to soul-testing adversity. Seize your greatness as a president and the people will honor you. Polls show that a majority of the independent voters that campaign strategists say you need are actually with you on climate.

The decision that will be—in your own words—"judged by history" is in your hands. Will you act on behalf of our children and future generations before the "time to reverse the tide runs out"? The moment has come to end the silence.

In your 2008 campaign, you featured these words from Rev. Martin Luther King: "We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now."

However, you did not mention the warning that immediately followed, when King said: "There is such a thing as being too late... We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: 'Too late.'"

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Gary Houser

Gary Houser

Gary Houser is a long-time public interest writer, currently a documentary producer working on climate tipping points, and a founding member of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group. Email: mountainmist8 [at]

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