Skip to main content

Robert Redford: Take the path to clean energy

By Robert Redford
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Protections have already been added to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York, but will they be enough in an era of climate change? Listing 30 at-risk sites, <a href='http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/impacts/national-landmarks-at-risk-from-climate-change.html' target='_blank'>a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists</a> contends rising seas are endangering many of America's landmarks. Here's a look at some of them: Protections have already been added to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York, but will they be enough in an era of climate change? Listing 30 at-risk sites, a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists contends rising seas are endangering many of America's landmarks. Here's a look at some of them:
HIDE CAPTION
National landmarks at risk
National landmarks at risk
National landmarks at risk
National landmarks at risk
National landmarks at risk
National landmarks at risk
National landmarks at risk
National landmarks at risk
National landmarks at risk
National landmarks at risk
National landmarks at risk
National landmarks at risk
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama administration proposings limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired plants
  • Robert Redford: New rules are critical, they're a huge step to curbing carbon pollution
  • He says if we embrace clean energy, we innovate, create jobs, fight climate change
  • Redford: Current path is unsustainable, threatens our health and increases costs

Editor's note: Director and actor Robert Redford is a trustee at Natural Resources Defense Council. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- I've been in Georgia for the last few weeks, where I'm filming a movie about two out-of-shape geezers who take on the long walk of the Appalachian Trial -- the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Smokies, Cumberlands, and the Shenandoah Valley. It's possible to wander huge stretches of this great American wilderness and never see a sign that the 2,100-mile trail runs through the heart of coal country.

For a century, the people who live alongside the Appalachian Trail have built their lives around where there was coal, because where there was coal there was work. Dirty, dangerous, terribly difficult work -- but work.

Now, this too is changing, and coal, inevitably, is going away -- and with it, the only way of life these hardworking people have ever known. It's a wrenching change. In 1979, there were 62,500 coal miners in West Virginia. Today there are just 23,000. Coal reserves are shrinking, mechanization means fewer jobs per ton, production is shifting to cheaper areas, and low-cost supplies of unconventional natural gas are pricing coal out of the electric power market.

At the same time, a preponderance of scientific evidence makes clear that climate change caused by fossil fuel pollution is already having tremendous impact on the world around us. It's making our oceans rise, putting our food supplies at risk, increasing the chances of extreme weather, and contributing to political instability in nations around the world.

However, we know how to fix the problem. We can avoid the most destructive impacts of climate change -- but only if we move quickly to convert to energy supplies dominated by clean power.

Here's a way to start that work: The Obama administration will propose the first limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired plants, which on their own create roughly 40% of the nation's total carbon emissions. A recent analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (where I serve as a board member) found that putting these rules in place would be the equivalent of removing up to 130 million cars from our roads. At the same time, this approach would yield as much as $63 billion in health, air quality and clean water benefits -- numbers that far outweigh the costs of putting limits on carbon pollution.

That's why these new rules are a big deal -- the biggest step our country has ever taken on curbing carbon pollution. Demonstrating that kind of leadership could mark an important turning point in the global climate effort.

Obama's big environmental move: Demanding power plants cut carbon emissions

And so, right now, we must choose between two paths.

One path brings opportunities for more innovation. New technologies can clean up our skies, create jobs here and actions abroad. This path harnesses American wind, solar, geothermal and energy efficiency to begin eliminating our reliance on foreign energy supplies. And it helps ensure our children and grandchildren avoid a dangerous battle with rising seas, scorched farmlands and more dangerous storms as climate change bears down further in the coming decades.

Or there's the other path -- the one we've taken for the past century -- which sustains an ever-dirtier status quo. It's a path that reduces the beautiful mountains of Appalachia to rubble for the black rocks that all but guarantee climate chaos for future generations. It mandates a future reliant on exporting that coal and darkening the skies around the world, while leaving opportunities for innovation to other countries more willing and able to embrace positive change. And it's one where ever fewer workers are hired for dangerous jobs that put them at physical risk, threatening their health and burdening their local communities with pollution.

Nevertheless, the apprehension in coal country to leave this current path is understandable. We would all feel it if we were in their shoes. Outsiders can't ignore the plight of the families and the affected communities, and we have an obligation to ensure that they have a strong economic bridge to a sustainable, clean energy future.

Opinion: Cleaner air will help save planet

That must be central to the broader effort to cut power plant pollution, which is why the Environmental Protection Agency will give each state the ability to create its own approach to cutting pollution, rightfully recognizing the need to be flexible for coal states. After all, as past efforts to clean up pollution have shown us, this effort will only succeed if we all work together.

Over the past 40 years, we have recognized the health threats and costs of pollution and put in place a range of commonsense limits on power-plant pollutants like lead, mercury and arsenic. Now it's time to put the same kind of limits on the dangerous carbon pollution and create safer and better jobs for our energy workers in the process.

Tell your elected officials and the EPA that you support the new carbon pollution regulations -- and demand clean energy, now. It's time to move to the cleaner path.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT