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Top activist says environmental movement is failing

In advance of a talk at the University of Louisville, CBS News environmental contributor and lead scientist at the Nature Conservancy M. Sanjayan told the Courier-Journal that the environmental movement was failing.

“On virtually every measure, the environmental movement is not keeping up with the needs at hand,” Sanjayan told the Journal.

“Species extinction, deforestation, climate change — we are playing and have been for two decades a rear-guard action,” Sanjayan added. “We are slowing the decline, perhaps, but not nearly enough. We don’t have a movement. We have a niche. It’s mostly mono-chromatic in culture, in political belief, and in socioeconomic status.”

Sanjayan said that the environmental movement was fractured and that environmentalists needed to demonstrate the value of nature to businesses, include more rural people in the movement, and motivate young people.

“And we need the type of messengers who can be both thought- and inspirational- leaders to people from all walks of life, more representative of the planet we are trying to save,” he said.

“The cost of doing nothing is catastrophic,” Sanjayan said. “But for a relatively modest amount per person, basically a latte a week, we can dramatically alter our climate profile for the future.”

Sanjayan said that the developed world needed to invest in technology and tax carbon emissions to help address climate change. He added that people in developed countries needed to modify their behaviors as well.

“In the developing world we need leaders to acknowledge that they are part of the problem as well, and while their needs in absolute terms are great, their ability to leap-frog is also great,” Sanjayan said. “And investing in the future is better than following our path to development.”

Despite Sanjayan’s concerns, the Obama administration threatened to use his executive authority to tackle climate change, if Congress failed to act on the issue.

The administration has already used the Environmental Protection Agency to set stricter emissions standards for power plants. Last year, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity reported that within the next three to five years more than 200 coal-fired electric generating units will be shuttered across 25 states due to EPA regulations and other factors, including low-priced natural gas.

Obama’s EPA nominee Gina McCarthy has drawn criticism for her role in advancing aggressive regulations on fossil fuel energy sources.

“Throughout her career McCarthy has implemented policies that attempt to constrain the use of reliable energy sources,” said Institute for Energy Research President Thomas Pyle. “As the EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, McCarthy has played a large role in the shuttering of coal-fired power plants around the country, which has resulted in tens of thousands of layoffs and permanent job losses.”

Furthermore, efforts by environmental groups have led to the shutdown of coal plant across the country. Recently environmentalists won obtained a legal settlement forcing a utility to stop burning coal at plants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky,bringing the total of announced or actual coal plant retirements nationwide to 142 since 2010.

Coal-fired power makes up 79 percent of carbon emissions — a greenhouse gas — from electricity generation, according to the Energy Information Administration.

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