Connect to share and comment

Opinion: It's liberty at stake in a warming world

US Congress and Obama must seize the moment in Copenhagen to preserve liberty for future generations.

A villager walks through a partially dried reservoir in Yingtan, Jiangxi province Oct. 29, 2009. China's busy climate change diplomacy has become increasingly feverish weeks before crucial talks that could forge a new pact to fight global warming, or end in rancour that could rebound onto the world's biggest emitter. (Reuters)

NEW YORK and BERKELEY, California — President Barack Obama opened a new chapter in America’s role in solving global problems in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly. By calling for the U.S. to re-engage in the global community, he has set us on a new course to preserve American liberty. The preservation of liberty has been the most powerful unifying political commitment for generations of Americans. With global warming, the threats to our liberty are now tied more than ever before to the actions of all nations. The climate change negotiations in Copenhagen this December and in D.C. provide a critical opportunity for the U.S. to start down this new path.

Many of us in the United States have not personally experienced the absence of liberty nor the fear of political insecurity. Yet, if we do not act quickly to address global warming, our children and grandchildren will likely confront these challenges with increasing constraints on their choices and their well-being. Decisions underlying our children’s liberty can no longer be governed simply by election cycles. These decisions are upon us today and they cannot wait.

We write this as father and daughter, with different windows on global issues: one with a 50-year career in diplomacy, the other with a 20-year career in environmental science. Despite our diverse backgrounds, we both see climate change as the biggest and most challenging threat on the horizon to American values and liberty.

The struggles for liberty and global security in the 20th century were rooted largely in the oppression within and the conflicts with the closed societies of ideologically driven despotisms — of Fascism, Nazism and Communism.

In the 21st century, the battlefields will be staggeringly more complex. Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are already decreasing water availability, reducing air quality, and increasing frequency of floods, droughts and wildfires. If climate change continues unabated, these changes will greatly affect our children’s choices on where they live, what they eat and, most likely, how they are governed and the wars they fight.

The ingenuity of the U.S. and the global community has led to advancements in science and technology that have enabled us to tackle tremendous challenges in the past. We must harness this ingenuity; however, we cannot wait for the scientific or technological breakthrough that could solve climate change. The changes that humans are inflicting on our Earth are destabilizing our life support system. Once this is broken, we may never be able to fix it.