Robert Redford: President needs to act on climate

He’s 76 now. And Robert Redford hasn’t given up. Not by a long shot.

His latest film came out today, and it’s all of a minute and 20 seconds. It will run not in movie theaters, but online and in social media. Plus, there’s a downsized 30-second version that will run in Washington, D.C., where Redford is directing his words.

In the spots, Redford urges President Obama to have the courage of his convictions and to act on climate change.

Here’s the TV version: “Hello, I'm Robert Redford. Climate change is happening fast. We've got to stop making the problem worse, and that means reducing carbon pollution from its biggest source, coal-fired power plants. The good news is that President Obama has pledged to act. I just hope the President has the courage of his convictions. Please, urge the President to make dirty power plants clean up their carbon pollution. Thank you.”

In the longer versions, he talks about worsening storms, including last fall’s Sandy. He talks about record-setting heat and drought, plus rising sea levels.

He says cleaning up our coal-fired power plants would create jobs, boost the economy and “save us money.”

Power companies have fought restrictions, saying they would achieve the opposite effects.

The campaign is sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council; Redford is a longtime member of the group’s board of trustees.

Just yesterday, the International Energy Agency reported that global carbon dioxide emissions associated with energy use rose 1.4 percent in 2012.

“This puts us on a difficult and dangerous trajectory,” IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said in a Washington Post report. “If we don’t do anything between now and 2020, it will be very difficult because there will be a lot of carbon already in the atmosphere and the energy infrastructure will be locked in.” (Emissions declined in the U.S., credited to coal-fired power plants switching to natural gas.)

Another group, the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst announced its new Greenhouse 100 index, said to be the first ranking of U.S. industrial polluters on the basis of their 2011 emissions of gases responsible for global climate change.

The data come from the U.S. EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, which reports annual emissions from large facilities. PERI researchers matched individual facilities to their owners to produce the Greenhouse 100 rankings.

Topping the list are three electrical power companies: American Electric Power, Duke Energy, and Southern Company. Together, these three alone are responsible for more than five percent of greenhouse gas emissions from all U.S. sources combined — as much as the average annual emissions of 73 million automobiles, PERI said.

And guess who's fourth: The U.S. government.

These kinds of statistics are tricky because they don’t factor in the efficiency of power plants. For instance, a company that owns, say, just one power plant, but perhaps it spews more pollution per megawatt hour than any other plant, might go unnoticed.

A big company that has installed some controls, but that just happens to have a large “fleet” of coal-fired power plants, might wind up high on the list.

Still, the report has some merit. It’s a starting point for looking at what to focus our attention.

Also yesterday, TakePart, the digital division of Participant Media, the company behind the film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” launched a campaign looking at what has — or hasn’t — taken place in the seven years since the film was released.

And in State College, twenty community leaders assembled to “express their concern and frustration with lack of action on climate change by the President,” according to a press release about the event.

So, clearly, pressure is mounting.

The longer Redford video has a clip of President Obama during his inaugural address: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

“These are powerful words,” said NRDC president Frances Beinecke in a blog post announcing the campaign. “But it has been 142 days since the Inauguration, and we haven’t seen any new initiatives from the President that reflect his rhetoric or even begin to tap the power of the presidency. As Redford says in the video, ‘I just hope the president has the courage of his convictions.’ ”

She noted that Redford has has been engaged in the climate fight for decades, since he first organized a conference for Russian and American climate scientists back in the 1980s. “He knows we can’t afford to delay any longer.”

The NRDC has laid out its own plan for what could be done — even under existing laws.

Under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency can set standards to curb carbon pollution from its largest source — coal-fired power plants, the national nonprofit maintains.

“Even while Congress remains paralyzed, the president can move forward and reduce carbon pollution by 26 percent and generate up to $60 billion in public health and climate benefits by 2020,” Beinecke said.