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 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT