Thursday is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. In the years just before the first Earth Day, both of us served in Vietnam. After the war, we chose different career paths: one of us pursued a career in the military, the other a career in law and environmental advocacy. But today we share the common goal of increasing our national, economic, and environmental security through passage of comprehensive clean energy and climate change legislation.
Our energy problem is clear: We are burning too much oil and coal, which is damaging our health, deepening our dependence on foreign fuels, costing us billions of dollars a year, and changing the Earth’s climate. As the blanket of carbon dioxide surrounding the Earth thickens, the temperature of the Earth is increasing and disrupting life and natural systems unprepared for temperatures not experienced in tens of thousands of years.
Climate change could have a major destabilizing effect on populations around the world. According to a 2008 report by retired admirals and generals from all branches of the armed services, climate change could affect U.S. military operations and heighten global tensions by worsening conditions in already fragile regions. “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” by the CNA Corp., suggests that climate change could exacerbate conditions that lead to failed states, potentially increasing the number of breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism.
More directly, our high dependence on foreign oil is putting money in the hands of our enemies. As a nation, we spend about $1 billion every day on oil to heat our homes, run our businesses, and fuel our vehicles. Much of that oil comes from the Middle East, including from countries that are hostile to the U.S. and our values. Thus, the money we spend on foreign oil helps pay for guns, bullets, rocket launchers and roadside bombs that put U.S. service men and women in harm’s way.
Closer to home, Maine has serious reasons to be concerned about the potential consequences of climate change. With our extensive coastline and an economy that is highly dependent on our natural resources, we are vulnerable to such effects as sea-level rise, changing composition of our forests, and acidification of our oceans. By midcentury, Maine could see more heat waves, with high temperatures and ozone smog that increase asthma rates, heart attacks and other health threats. These long-term effects have been well-documented by the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine.
The warning signs from a warming Earth are increasingly apparent. Adapting to climate change will be challenging and costly, and the longer we put off the transition away from fossil fuels, the more costly it will be for our economy, fragile ecosystems around the world, and the millions of people who live just barely above sea level.
Facing many potential threats, our collective attention on this 40th Earth Day should be on creating policies and investing in reliable technologies that increase our energy independence and reduce the threat of climate change. The benefits of such efforts could be very real here in Maine.
Maine is well-positioned to add thousands of clean energy jobs as part of a national initiative to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Weatherizing our homes and businesses so that we waste less energy would result in thousands of jobs, and tapping our natural resources responsibly for clean energy could generate thousands more. The Center for American Progress estimates that the passage of a comprehensive energy and climate bill will create 10,000 jobs in Maine alone.
During the weeks and months ahead, the U.S. Senate will be debating a new bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I. Conn.. The legislation is designed to reduce carbon pollution, increase domestic energy supplies and boost energy efficiency and clean energy investments.
Although the two of us may not agree on all of the approaches needed as part of a comprehensive approach to addressing our climate and energy problems, we are in complete agreement that the time for action has arrived. The U.S. must be a leader in addressing the threat of climate change. The U.S. Congress must demonstrate leadership in putting us on a path toward increased energy security.
Maine’s two senators can be heroes in this campaign, given their substantial influence and knowledge of these issues. We hope that they will, for our economic security, environmental security, and national security. Passage of a climate and clean energy bill this spring would be a fitting tribute to the spirit of Earth Day that was ushered in 40 years ago, and continues to motivate us to work for a more sustainable future.
Freeing ourselves from overdependence on fossil fuels won’t take place overnight, but it won’t happen at all if we don’t act now.
Retired 1st Lt.USMC Brownie Carson, is executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Retired Maj. Gen. Donald Edwards, U.S. Army, lives in South Bristol.