We Can't Ignore Climate Change
Last night, I was talking to Secretary [of the Interior Ken] Salazar. And he asked me, "What happens to New Orleans when sea level rise is not an inch from thermal expansion, but meters due to land ice melt in west Antarctica and Greenland?"
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And I said, "Well, we have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen, but we do have some protections, because we're working on New Orleans. What we haven't given enough thought to is what happens to everybody else."
What happens to all the coastal cities? What happens to the East Coast of the U.S. with the slight tilt of the planet on its axis as we melt those ice caps? There's no protection for them. And we're not talking about hurricanes any more, we're talking about potentially tsunami type of events like we've seen in Asia, like we've seen most recently in American Samoa. A completely different set of events than what we're used to.
Some people say we can't do this because of the cost. As business, we all look at it in terms of it's an investment. In this case it's an investment that by all facts, figures, analysis pays back many times over. It pays back with reduced adaptation costs in the future, reduced repair and damage from these type of events, and growth in the economy through transferring technology around the world and creating jobs at home.
Some people say we can't do this because there are some things that are uncertain. But in large part that is precisely the reason we need to act, because of the uncertainty, not necessarily because of the things that we do know.
We do know a lot, as you all know.
We are virtually certain climate change is occurring, and it's occurring because of man's activities.
We're virtually certain the probability distribution curve is all bad. There's no good things that's going to come of this. What is uncertain is exactly which one of those things will occur and on what time frame. In the probability distribution curve is about a 50 percent probability that about half of all species will become extinct or be subject to extinction over this period of time. What we will never know on an ex ante basis is whether or not man will be one of those casualties or not.
We condemn Wall Street for taking risks with our economy — risks that all of you are working very hard to reverse — but at the same time we're taking exactly the same type of risk, with no upside whatsoever, with regard to our climate, failing to practice even the most basic risk management techniques in terms of climate change reduction.
We talked a lot in this issue about "us" and "we." And as all you know, this is not about us. This is about our children, and this is about our children's children. When our children are born, we know at that moment in time that there isn't anything in the world we wouldn't do for them. And as they grow, we know for certain that we'd give up our lives for our children.
But for some reason we won't do this. We're cheating them out of their future, and we're doing it with our eyes wide open. And that's exactly how history will judge us if we don't pass comprehensive energy and climate change reform now.
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J. Wayne Leonard is the chairman and CEO of Entergy Corporation.
A version of this speech by J. Wayne Leonard was previously published by Brad Johnson at the blog Wonk Room and was republished in the Climate Progress blog.