It's popular in some circles to link concerns about climate change with nefarious schemes to destroy capitalism and enslave free people in the cold and dark.
But even the most conspiratorial of skeptic has to respect a warning from Robert Fri.
Fri is a former director of the Electric Power Research Institute, the R&D arm of the electricity-generating industry, and American Electric Power Co., one of the nation's biggest consumers of coal and producers of carbon dioxide.
Fri was also one of the first leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Richard Nixon and has been a director of the National Museum of Natural History.
He has no conceivable motive for undermining capitalism or hurting coal or any other fuel or industry.
What he said this week about taking action in response to climate change was this: "We really need to get started right away. It's not opinion; it's what the science tells us."
Fri, chairman of one of three National Academy of Sciences committees that studied climate change, also said: "The country needs both a prompt and a sustained commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
Made up of the nation's top scientists, the National Academy is charged with advising the government on scientific matters.
In a series of reports released this week (available at www.national academies.org), the academy says that multiple lines of evidence make a compelling case that climate change is occurring. The scientists say climate change is caused, in large part, by human activities and poses significant risks to humans and natural systems, some of which are already occurring.
Their warning coincides with new reports from both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA that 2009 was the warmest year worldwide in human history. The most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the National Academy says, is to increase the cost of burning coal and oil.
The House last year approved an energy bill that would do just that through a market-based cap-and-trade system, the sort of system that has already been used to reduce other power plant emissions. The House bill also provides incentives for developing cleaner energy — including from coal — and protecting consumers from the effects of rising energy bills.
A similar bill was recently introduced in the Senate.
A Rasmussen poll last month found that 41 percent of Kentuckians opposed a major energy bill aimed at reducing global warming; 34 percent favored it and 25 percent were unsure.
The science on climate change is still changing, and scientists must keep expanding their understanding of its causes and effects.
But climate change is a real threat to our future well-being — and the longer we wait to act decisively, the bigger the threat becomes.