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One week before the most important international gathering ever to take place, President Obama formally announced his troop escalation in Afghanistan. But regarding the most pressing global problem — climate change — we are still left wondering whether the United States will be able to rise to the challenge. For climate change, if left unchecked, will wreak a havoc far surpassing any terrorist network or radical ideology.

Throughout American history, Americans have burdened tremendous sacrifices during war. In fact, Obama was speaking directly to the young men and women who will be asked to put themselves in harm’s way to protect our national security. In life and in treasure, in suppression of material goods and wants, Americans have shouldered much.

As Obama wonderfully articulated in his speech on Tuesday, America has done more than any other country to underwrite global security and stability. America is not perfect; it never will be. But this is a country that, throughout its history, has done much to advance freedom and equality — not only inside its own borders but all across the world.

In one week, we’ll send an American delegation to participate in the U.N. Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. On his way to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama will stop in Copenhagen to address delegates and conference participants. It will be an opportunity once again for the world’s greatest power to lead. I hope the administration views the threat posed by climate change as significant — if not more imperiling — than threats from a loose network of militants. But what I truly hope to convey to the public is that we must begin to think anew about the challenges that face this country and what we are all willing to sacrifice to meet them.

Despite recent attempts to undermine the scientific consensus that exists, global warming is happening. And human activity is driving it. The science tells us that a marginal, 2-degree Celsius increase in the temperature would have calamitous effects, some of which are already visible. Arctic sea ice is melting much faster than originally estimated. We’ve seen a higher-than-expected rise in sea levels. Rich and poor countries are dealing with droughts and floods. The planet is changing in ways that outstrip the scientific predictions of only a few years ago. Climate change even serves as a security-threat multiplier, exacerbating the conditions that lead to failed states — the breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism.

I contend that the threat is real and cuts across many areas — health, the economy, national security, etc. There are, of course, cynics and those who deny that climate change is indeed fact. Yet even those who deny the science must agree that investing in renewable energy and clean technology can create jobs and spur innovation and growth. Even those who dispute these claims may agree that unlinking our economy from foreign oil can better our foreign policy and national security.

The students on this campus and on campuses all across the country should pay keen attention to the Copenhagen conference. Several students from the UI — including me — will attend to observe and advocate for a new international climate-change treaty. After all, it’s your future that is being leveraged.

Climate change is the greatest threat known to humanity. Never in the course of human history has a threat emerged like it. Wars, no matter how devastating, encompass only a handful of countries. No one — regardless of nationality, age, ethnicity, or sex — will escape the devastating effects of a warming planet. Americans have sacrificed so much in the past and are being asked to sacrifice once again in the name of war. In Copenhagen, from Dec. 7-18, the battle lines for a new and more dangerous war will be drawn.

What will we be willing to sacrifice?

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