Photo courtesy of NASA.
By Terrance Turner
April 22, 2021
Today is Earth Day, an annual holiday that demonstrates support for environmental protection. Activist John McConnell first proposed the event in 1969. A year later, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson conceived the idea of a “teach-in” about the environment on college campuses to the national media. According to earthday.org, he persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair. They recruited Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize the campus teach-ins. Nelson chose the date of April 22.
He came from Wisconsin, which has cold winters, and he wanted to find a date late enough in the year that a teach-in wouldn’t be snowed in, but early enough that students wouldn’t be cramming fro final exams,” Hayes remembered in an interview with Time magazine. “And he wanted it to be in the middle of the week so people wouldn’t be away on weekend trips.” So Nelson chose April 22. “Earth Day was such a spectacular success, it started appearing on calendars,” Hayes said. In fact, the first Earth Day (on April 22, 1970) inspired 20 million demonstrators to the streets, participating in coast-to-coast rallies in cities and towns.Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against environmental destruction and the industrial pollution that had fueled it.
According to its website, “Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders.” Earth Day united millions in pursuit of a cleaner, more sustainable planet. It led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency that year, followed by the passage of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. The impact of Earth Day on America can be felt to this day.
Today, President Joe Biden pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. He made the announcement today — Earth Day — during a virtual summit with about 40 world leaders. The two-day summit is about the United States’ return to the Paris Climate Agreement, according to the New York Times.
As the summit got underway, Biden set an ambitious new goal: bring emissions down 50-52% from a record high in 2005. His administration also said it would double its climate-related financing for developing countries by 2024 and push the private sector to fund sustainable infrastructure, mitigation initiatives and other investments.
“These steps will set America on a path of a net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050,” Biden said. He portrayed these efforts as part of a economic and ethical obligation. “This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative,” Mr. Biden said. “A moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities.”
The pledge met with varying results. “In rapid succession, Japan, Canada, Britain and the European Union committed to steeper cuts. But China, India and Russia made no new emissions promises, and even Mr. Biden’s commitment to cut U.S. greenhouse gases 50 percent to 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade will be extraordinarily difficult to meet, economically and politically,” the Times reported.
But Biden is undeterred. He insisted that now is the time to begin addressing the global issue of climate change. “Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade, this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis,” Biden said, quoted by USA Today. Biden’s climate czar John Kerry acknowledged the loftiness of the goal, but was also bullish. He called the aim “ambitious but appropriate and achievable” and added, “Is it doable? Yes. Will we probably exceed it? I expect yes.”
That will be a steep climb. A new report from the University of Maryland outlined steps that would need to be taken for the Biden administration to meet its goal. A fact sheet from the study says that by 2030, half of the electricity in America would need to come from renewable sources like such as wind, solar or hydropower. Most, if not all, of the coal-powered plants in the country would need to be shut down. Generation from gas-fired power plants must be a third lower than today.
To meet Biden’s goal, according to the report, transportation must be overhauled, too. “In 2030, over 65% of new cars and SUV sales will be electric (pure EV or PHEV). and 10% of new truck sales will be electric,” the fact sheet says. It adds that cleaning up transportation contributes 1/4 of the needed reductions.
All new buildings need to be 100% electric. Almost all new appliance sales will need to be electric, as part of a longer-term transition away from natural gas. Cement emissions will be 20% lower than they were in 2018. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) emissions have to be reduced by almost half. Methane (CH4) leaks from oil and gas systems must be cut by 60%.
Already, the administration is getting to work. On Thursday, the C.I.A. announced it was adding a new category covering the environment to its World Factbook. The agency’s unclassified guide will now provide the latest country data on climate, air pollutants, infectious diseases, food security, waste and other environmental topics.
Today, the White House nominated Rick Spinrad, an oceanographer at Oregon State University, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NOAA, is a government agency that seeks to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. It houses the National Weather Service and conducts much of the nation’s climate reserach, according to Axios. Spinrad is a professor of oceanography who served as the NOAA’s chief climate scientist under the Obama administration.