The First Step to Kicking Our Carbon Addiction

This is a guest post from Keith Gaby, climate communications director at Environmental Defense Fund.

How would you respond to an upsetting medical diagnosis? Probably first with shock and fear, then you’d ask the doctor about realistic treatment options. That’s how it works for an individual, but what about when 315 million people get the bad news at the same time?

That’s what happened this week, when the White House released another troubling National Climate Assessment (NCA). It described a condition that’s going to get significantly worse without intervention — with troubling symptoms already apparent.

Now, to be fair, this NCA wasn’t really news in the “I didn’t see that coming” sense. Just like a patient who has been told to stop smoking for years, there has been plenty of warning that our “unfiltered” smokestacks are causing serious damage to our environment and health. Last month, in fact, the International Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth report, and this is the third National Climate Assessment — each making more specific estimates of the climate dangers ahead. And yet, we can’t quit our pack-a-day habit.

The disturbing news is all here: Threats to agriculture from drought, danger for coastal residents and businesses from rising seas, more frequent intense hurricanes, more asthma attacks for kids, the spread of insect borne disease, and much more.

But the good news is that this disease has a cure. In fact, in just about four weeks, the United States is poised to take a very important step towards improving the currently predicted outcome. On June 2, EPA is planning to announce limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants, which are America’s largest source of climate pollution — about a third of the total we produce.

When EPA announces the new standards, what will probably surprise most people is that the agency doesn’t already have limits on this type of pollution. A recent poll indicates that 56 percent of Americans assume we currently have these protections. That’s an understandable belief since EPA limits most other forms of air pollution, but up to now utilities have been free to put as much of this stuff as they can crank out in our common atmosphere. And all that pollution has a very real cost borne by society.

Of course, as with all other proposed air pollution rules, there will be a small but powerful group who howl in protest. They did it when EPA limited toxic mercury, sulfur, smog and other dangerous pollutants. I’m sure you’ll hear that ending unlimited carbon pollution will wreck our economy and bankrupt us all. But what those people won’t tell you is that studies have shown that every past air pollution rule has actually helped the U.S. economy, with benefits outweighing costs by a substantial margin.

The new rules alone won’t cure climate change. But, along with actions on cars and trucks that have already been announced, they are a substantial first step. These standards will also push utilities to modernize, help grow clean energy jobs, and give a boost to entrepreneurs who are looking for ways to power our economy more cleanly. (EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said the agency is exploring ways to make the rules flexible, allowing states and companies to find innovative ways to meet the standards.)

Cures are never painless, but they’re usually a lot better than the disease. And everyone knows that the sooner you act, the better the outcome. So let’s take yesterday’s diagnosis seriously, and when EPA announces the new carbon standards on June 2, let’s make sure Congress knows we all want a healthy future.

This article originally appeared on the EDF Voices blog and is reprinted with permission.

Photo provided by EDF.


Jim Ven
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Warren Webber
Warren Webber2 years ago

Live long and prosper!

Grace Adams
Grace Adams3 years ago

A tax first on CO2eq later joined by a tax on energy regardless of carbon footprint with revenues split between financing leases of renewable energy equipment and energy efficiency equipment and buying fossil fuel reserves as mineral rights is likely to get more mitigation of emissions with less squawk from our energy industry than non-tariff regulatory burden. I hope our fossil fuel firms can wise up and demand such taxes devoted to solving this problem of our energy industry with the safeguard for our fossil fuel firms of demanding that utilities wait their turn for these leases rather than just going out and buying renewable energy equipment on their own to avoid the emissions tax. It should be possible to replace our entire electricity infrastructure over a 30 year period, but the tax on energy would have to continue until all fossil fuel reserves are bought and paid for.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago


Carrie T.
Carrie T.3 years ago


Very good content.

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Scott haakon
Scott haakon3 years ago

It is far better not to become frightened. Too many of these predictions fail.

Brett Byers
Brett Byers3 years ago

Stop 1000 tons of CO2 emissions by saving acres of rainforest for the cost of a cup of coffee:

Nina R.
Past Member 3 years ago

It's so sad that USAhas not ratifieed the Kioto agreement aswell not either the Doha 2012. This is the consequence of it. Aso what Europe is doing is: emissions Trading with the countries which dn't understand more that they earn money o it. These must be forbidden!!!

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F3 years ago