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Possible consequences of climate change are too dire to postpone taking action

It is critical for the United States to take the lead in trying to curb the damaging effects of climate change on the earth and its inhabitants.

The urgent need is underscored by scientific estimates that even with the actions pledged by many countries, the world would still warm by more than 6 degrees Fahrenheit, with catastrophic results.

Yet those agreements are critical in preventing even worse consequences. Pope Francis appealed for action on climate change during his trip to the United States. We’ll see how much weight his words and those of scientists have later this year at the Paris Climate Change Conference.

Brazil is the latest country to join in the effort. China’s President Xi Jinping has announced a cap-and-trade agreement to rein in emissions.

The United States has set out an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next couple of decades. The Obama administration has managed to make progress in crafting policies despite an intractable Congress. Instead, these policies have been implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency. One piece, the Clean Power Plan, would drastically reduce pollution from power generation, especially coal-fired plants.

Climate change is a campaign issue for Republicans running for president, who pledge to undo what Obama has done. Those who oppose what they consider liberal nonsense argue that humans cannot undo the damage already done, and that to try will cause economic damage. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand what nearly all scientists are saying: The world is warming because of human activity, and we can take actions to reduce the damage.

The U.S. economy is always creating winners and losers as technology and the needs of consumers evolve. That means coal-fired power plants like the Huntley Station in Tonawanda are on the way out while renewable energy is growing. Western New York has seen a jump in wind farms and solar energy, and the state is building the hemisphere’s largest solar panel factory at RiverBend. These projects have the potential to turn our Rust Belt into a Green Belt.

Slowing the pace of climate change for the sake of generations to come requires the global community to work together. That is unlikely to happen if the United States hangs back. The proof will come at the Paris conference. As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Paris must be the floor, not the ceiling, for collective ambition.”