Letter to the editor:
Here in Ohio, I have made it my life’s work as a plant ecologist at Ohio State University to study our ecosystems, including how they respond to carbon dioxide, a major cause of climate disruption. For decades, coal and oil fired power plants, the largest sources of carbon pollution, have been allowed to dump unlimited amounts of dangerous carbon pollution into our air. This is changing everything around us, all the things we hold dear. Unless we act, we face stark consequences.
Air pollution and our destabilizing climate — seen in floods, severe drought, wildfires, record heat and superstorms — remain a top global concern. This was made clear by the more than 400,000 world citizens who showed up in New York City for the unprecedented People’s Climate March in September.
The outcry is growing, the health and ecological consequences are mounting. Unless we act, what’s left of the natural vitality around us will be in grave peril.
Let me give you one example. My research in bioscience has shown that our country’s forests play a critical role in the world’s carbon cycle, limiting the amount of carbon pollution that goes into our air and helping to mitigate climate change. But that is true only when our forests are healthy. As dirty power plants continue to pollute, they disturb the ecological balance.
As part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed standards to curb dangerous carbon pollution from existing power plants for the first time. Also in the works are much-needed safeguards against coal ash and smog, soon to be proposed. By cleaning up and modernizing power plants, we will begin to clean up our air, cut pollution-related illness and curb the worst effects of climate disruption.
The earth’s climate is changing. As this unfolds, we must ask who is going to be harmed the most. History has taught us that it won’t be those lofted in wealth and security, though no one is immune to the changes ahead. It will be the poor, the homeless, the geographically vulnerable — for example, those near rising sea levels or coastal storms, as in Louisiana or Southeast Asia. This destabilization of climate creates a destabilization of economy, and our national security will become threatened if we do not insulate ourselves against these impacts.
Of course, I’m not just a scientist when I consider these issues. I’m also a parent. Imagine seeing your child sitting on railroad tracks, and a moving train is approaching, ready to strike.
This is how it feels when I study our planet. I can see that the train of climate change has already left the station. Unless we intervene, unless we protect what matters most to us, all might be wiped away.
Like no other generation, we have the ability to change the trajectory of life on earth. It’s time that we protect our vital ecosystems by curbing carbon pollution. With strong safeguards in place and carbon emissions in check, we can get our planet on the road to recovery.
Dr. Peter S. Curtis
Professor of plant and ecosystem ecology