Christiana Figueres, climate chief for the United Nations, said recently that time is running out for reaching an international agreement to deal with global warming.
Referring to the climate talks in Paris at the end of the year, Figueres told the Associated Press, "We are at five minutes to 12 and Paris is the 12 o'clock strike of the clock."
Failure to reach a global, binding agreement on curbing carbon emissions --- the key driver of rising temperatures and climate change --- would mean "we are going to be playing with fire," said the UN official.
Figueres couldn't be more correct in her assessment. NASA testing shows that the average global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is now 400 parts per million. That's a full 50 points higher than the 350 ppm that is considered by scientists to be the maximum sustainable level of atmospheric carbon. Beyond that level, the viability of human life in the long term could be threatened by sharply rising temperatures and catastrophic climate impacts.
Already temperatures have been rising. Last year, 2014, was the hottest year ever recorded.
And dramatic climate impacts are taking place. We are getting more and more violent, killer storms, like Super Storm Sandy in 2012; more powerful tornadoes, wreaking incredible devastation; brutal droughts in the American west and in other parts of the world; and terrible forest fires, also in the western U.S., which are destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland.
Experts believe that the extreme weather is linked to changes in the atmosphere caused by greenhouse gases.
It's imperative that we move quickly to massively cut back on carbon emissions, as well as the emissions of other global warming gases, like methane.
But have world leaders been moving to take decisive action to blunt climate change?
So far, the answer to that question is, no.
The United States obviously has a leading role to play in any international effort to fight climate change. For most of his presidency, President Barack Obama has not made climate change a major priority, despite his claims to the contrary. He has never once made a nationwide speech in prime time about the danger of climate change and the absolute necessity that we all work together to fight it.
Former Vice President Al Gore called the fight against climate change a "planetary emergency." He's right. Obama could have said the same thing. He could have laid out all the awful scenarios that will befall us if we do nothing to control climate change, and really scared people. They need to be scared. This is an existential threat --- far more than anything posed by al-Qeada, the Islamic State or other extremists.
At the same time Obama could have urged people, particularly young people, to get involved in a national effort to educate everyone about the dangers of global warming and the imperative of moving away from carbon-producing fossil fuels. That national address could have been followed by a series of speeches around the country.
A major campaign like that could have put the climate skeptics back on their heels and prompted a strong public demand that Congress pass laws that both control carbon, lessen the use of fossil fuels and put major funding into renewables.
But no such public campaign was undertaken. Obama failed to use his bully pulpit to get the nation moving on climate change.