"Addressing climate change must take top priority in the next four years"The clever bunch at MIT usually know what they're talking about when it comes to science and technology. So when they write an open letter urging you to do something in one of their fields of expertise, it's usually best to read very carefully and take the recommendations into account. I'm hoping that this is what president Obama will do with the open letter that MIT's Technology Review has sent him urging action on climate change during his second term.
Amid the crises and battles, both predictable and unforeseeable, that you will face over the next four years, one problem will stand out both for the economic and social dangers it poses and for the difficulty and cost of solving it. Whether you can develop a practical and sustainable strategy to address climate change—specifically, to begin lowering carbon dioxide emissions—will define the success of your new term as president. We do not make such a declaration lightly; we are keenly aware of the many other challenges you face. But the potential for global warming over the next decades threatens consequences so dire that they could overwhelm any progress you make toward other long-term economic, social, and political goals. [...]
Slowing down global warming won’t be cheap. You have often stressed the economic benefits of choosing new energy technologies. You make a valid argument that moving away from fossil fuels will have positive implications for many businesses. And certainly new technologies will provide jobs and other economic opportunities. But we can no longer pretend that addressing climate change will be without real costs. Economic studies show that it is likely to cost trillions of dollars worldwide, though those analyses also present evidence that the price will grow higher the longer we wait. [...]
The International Energy Agency reports that global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel combustion reached a record 31.6 metric gigatons in 2011. To have a decent chance of limiting the average global temperature increase to 2 °C and avoiding the most devastating effects of climate change, we will need carbon emissions to peak at no more than 32.6 metric gigatons, and to start falling no later than 2017. The president who takes office that year will thus be facing a far more urgent problem—probably, like you, with no political consensus on how to solve it. But as a president in his final term, you have a chance to take risks. You have the power and the opportunity to lay the groundwork for a new clean-energy policy that will help us avoid the worst consequences of climate change. It is quite possible that if this is not done over the next four years, it will be too late.
If you want more, you can read the whole open letter here.
If you're curious, the pie chart above comes from this post: Most Important Pie Chart You'll See Today: 13,950 Peer-Reviewed Scientific Articles on Earth's Climate.