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Renewable Energy, Communication Key to Fighting Climate Change

By Charlene Porter | Staff Writer | 31 January 2014
Large, circular machine shown in colored light (AP Images)

Next-generation wind turbines are being tested at an energy-innovation center operated by Clemson University in South Carolina.

Washington — President Obama emphasized the importance of developing renewable energy technologies in his State of the Union message January 28, a recurring theme for his administration that has been given priority since the first weeks of his first term in 2009.

Expanded use of renewable energy technologies helps move the nation to a low-carbon economy at the same time it creates new jobs in an expanding sector, Obama said.

“Our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet,” Obama said, because it reduces the release of carbon and other harmful emissions that are contributing to climate change.

“When our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did,” Obama said.

COMMUNICATING ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy said January 30 that Obama’s statement on creating a safer, more stable world condenses all the complexities of climate science, energy policy and renewable energy technologies into a concept that any parent can understand. Speaking at a scientific forum focused on “Building Climate Solutions,” McCarthy asked the audience to help better educate the public about the realities of climate change.

“I need you to stand up together with us and explain what the science is telling you,” McCarthy said, “to tell people that science and technology improvements will allow us to take action moving forward.”

In doing so, scientists can help EPA to better perform its mission of protecting the environment and public health, McCarthy said.

The EPA administrator spoke to a meeting of about 1,200 science, education, business and government professionals sponsored by the National Council for Science and the Environment. The organization is focused on improving the scientific basis for environmental policies.

John Gummer, representing the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Committee, reinforced McCarthy’s message about the importance of cutting through language that muddles the solidly verified science of climate change. “We’ve got to talk the language of people, and not the language of geeks,” he said.

Gummer said scientists and experts need to explain climate change to the public in terms of risk, comparing the issue to homeowner’s insurance, for example. Only a small percentage of people will ever experience a serious house fire, he said, but people insure their homes because they recognize how damaging — economically and materially — a house fire might be.

“We’ve got to get people to understand that’s what the climate change issue is,” he said. “If it were to happen, what it would do to the world is something that we don’t want to risk.”

As a leader in developing strategies for reducing carbon emissions and transitioning to cleaner technologies, Gummer said, his country is advocating policies of innovation, creativity and new technologies in step with the Obama administration.