07/17/2013 12:20 EDT | Updated 09/16/2013 05:12 EDT

President Obama Must Step Up and Fight Climate Change

Presidents have legacies. Imagine if you knew that every major decision you made would be written into history books, and that your grandchildren and great grandchildren could look back and have a pretty good sense as to whether you made their country and the world a better place.

For President Obama, one thing that suggests he could end up being on the right side of history is his recent reaffirmation that he intends to be the first American President to take the climate crisis seriously. Now, critical voices are using their power to call on the President to live up to his promise.

Today, a letter from 10 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, appeared in the Washington Post urging the President to do the right thing and reject the Keystone tar sands pipeline. The laureates are clear that the expansion of Canada's tar sands that the pipeline would allow, would devastate some of the world's most vulnerable people who are already suffering the impacts of climate change. The laureates write that the pipeline and the tar sands expansion would wreck havoc on the air, water, land and communities that live on the front lines of tar sands development.

The United States has often been the bad guy when it comes to inaction on climate change. Despite being in the top two global greenhouse gas polluters, the U.S. has refused to sign any meaningful international climate change agreements, and has not done nearly enough at home to limit its soaring emissions. This is changing, thanks to stronger efficiency rules, and the President's most recent commitment to tackle emissions from dirty coal. It's all part of a plan to actually meet a climate goal (although the goal is still not nearly ambitious enough). The U.S. just might be turning over a new leaf.

Approving or rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline is one of the critical decisions that will test whether the President is serious about his legacy to protect our shared climate. While the President has stated he will not approve the pipeline if it damages our climate (spoiler alert: it will), it's time to turn up the pressure to encourage President Obama to make the right decision for our future and reject the pipeline.

The Canadian tar sands are Canada's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution, and there is not a single federal regulation in place to control these soaring emissions. Canada has become the wild west of oil development. The climate and our economy are set to pay a hefty price as extreme weather hits harder in Canada and across the globe. With government and industry plans in Canada to triple tar sands production between now and 2030, we need other signals that supporting out of control tar sands expansion is not an option.

A lot of tough decisions land on the President's desk. This should not be one of them. It's true there will be those that will protest that some of the richest companies in the world will lose some profit, and there will be those that can't handle the fact that this time, money couldn't buy them what they wanted.

The bottom line is that rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and beginning a real shift towards a clean energy economy will be the moment the history books write about when they describe the legacy of a President who put the planet before polluters.

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For the truth about the tar sands, don't forget to visit

The Oil Sands and Canada's Environment