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President Obama’s Carbon Emissions Plan: Where Do We Fit In?

By Fran Hawthorne

Of all the problems the world confronts today, climate change undoubtedly affects more people, with more potentially dire consequences, than any other single issue.

Yet most people, looking at the EPA regulation that President Obama just proposed for cutting carbon emissions in order to combat climate change, are probably saying: “I don’t own a coal plant. This has nothing to do with me.”

In fact, the proposal has plenty to do with all of us. And there’s a whole list of things we can do to help make the carbon-cutting goals a reality.

(Of course, if you do happen to own a coal plant, or if you are a member of Congress or a state legislature, or an aide to a politician—well, there’s even more that you can do.)

One reason there are opportunities for mass activism is that the proposed rule doesn’t simply “declare war on coal” (despite the faux-outraged rhetoric from coal-industry advocates). Yes, President Obama is seeking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30% (compared with 2005 levels) over the next 16 years. However, states would be able to meet this target through a range of tactics.

For instance, if a powerful local coal lobby blocks any effort to require coal plants to install stronger pollution controls, a state could instead join a regional cap-and-trade program or subsidize alternative energy.

Similarly, any actions that you might take as an individual to reduce your energy use, switch to sustainable sources, or advocate against carbon emissions can be tailored to fit here:

Lobby: Write, phone, e-mail, or send a petition (or do all four) to your state and federal representatives, urging them to support the new proposal. Ask your state reps to vote for a cap-and-trade pact. Find out if any alternative energy bills are sitting around in a committee and cite them by name and number.

Join and donate: Every environmental organization will be putting pedal to the metal—if that can be done in an energy-efficient way—to help move this initiative along (even if some of the groups think it’s too weak).

Even without waiting for new state subsidies, reduce your energy usage and use alternative energy…  Of course you’re doing that already. So now nag your friends. Hey, why not write to your legislators to tell them what you’re doing? (Maybe a legislative aide will read your letter and be inspired.)

The planet won’t be saved just because some vague, powerful “they” decide to act, or even because President Obama issues an executive order. It will take all of us, pushing in every way we know.

Hear Fran Hawthorne talk more about climate change, responsible consumerism, and her award-winning book
 Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love on Patrick McCarty's Insight Radio. Skip to 39:20 for “Fran's Corner”:


Fran Hawthorne, photo by Leonard YakirFran Hawthorne is the author of Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love. This post is adapted from Fran’s Corner, her weekly show on the global political-cultural talk show Insight Radio, available on the CNN Website at