DemDaily: Lessons from the Planet
April 22, 2020
Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the annual event, observed in 193 countries, to demonstrate support for environmental protection.The annual event reminds us that we are fighting two crises: one that threatens our immediate health, and one that threatens the longterm health of our planet and future generations.
Both require a global response, as the same factors driving the climate crisis also put more people at risk from respiratory diseases like the novel coronavirus.
The environmental impact of the global lockdown due to the coronavirus, allowing the planet an unprecedented reprieve from the daily pollution and damage to the environment, also remind us of what is possible as we reexamine what is "essential" in our daily actions.
"The fights against the coronavirus and the climate crisis go hand-in-hand, and as we work to flatten the curve of this pandemic, we must strive toward the longer term goal of building a society rooted in sustainability and justice." -- Earth Day Live 2020
First held in 1970, Earth Day is considered the launch of the modern environmental movement. The concept of honoring the Earth was originally proposed by peace activist John McConnell at a 1969 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting, and later sanctioned by the UN.
The same year, the US Congress and President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, and passed environmental laws including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
In 1990, Harvard University professor Denis Hayes, the original national coordinator in 1970, took it international with events in 141 nations.
On Earth Day 2016, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed by the United States, China, and some 120 other countries, formalizing the historic climate protection treaty adopted by the consensus of 195 nations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.The agreement binds countries together in their coordinated efforts to battle the earth's rising temperatures from carbon emissions, and requires participating nations to put forward their best efforts on climate change as determined by each country.
In June of 2017 President Trump, who campaigned against climate change as "a hoax," officially withdrew the United States, the world's second largest producer of carbon emissions, from the Paris Agreement.
The Trump administration has overseen the largest rollback of protections for our natural resources, environment, communities and our climate in history.
Status of the Planet
Climate change is a human-caused, global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, such as oil, coal and gas, which release carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and other gases into the Earth's atmosphere and oceans.
While these phenomena include the increased temperature trends described by global warming, theyalso encompass sea level rise and ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide, as well as shifts in plant bloom and extreme weather events.
Global Warming: Since 1970 the Earth has experienced the warmest years on record, with the last five years being the hottest on record since first being measured in the late 1800s.
CO2 Emissions: Compared to 325 ppm (parts per million) in 1970, 2019 CO2 emissions stood at 412 ppm. Scientists say to keep a livable planet, we need to cut the level to 350 ppm.
Sea Levels: A consequence of higher temperatures is the melting of the polar ice caps, which is causing sea levels to rise. The Earth's antarctic glaciers have been losing up to 390 billion tons of ice and snow per year, fueling projections that the global mean sea level could rise by 4.3 feet by 2068.Earth in the Age of Coronavirus
The worldwide pause of mass transportation, manufacturing, energy consumption and daily business operations, has triggered the biggest fall in anthropogenic, or human-created, carbon emissions since World War II.
Cities across Europe, including Madrid, Rome and Paris all have seen drops of up to 45% in noxious nitrogen dioxide, and carbon rate emissions in China fell by a stunning 25% in the first few weeks of 2020.
NASA Satellite data showed a 30% drop in air pollution in March over the Northeast United States, and Los Angeles, California is smog-free with the best air quality the city has experienced in almost 40 years.
With little human traffic and waste, wildlife has been allowed to thrive, with deer roaming the streets in Nara, Japan, penguins exploring an empty Cape Town, South Africa, and sea turtles worldwide nesting on empty beaches.Billions of people worldwide are witnessing first-hand how their actions have a direct impact on the health of their communities, the economy and the environment.
That knowledge is a powerful tool in laying the groundwork for our collective actions, as a society, moving forward.
Before the lessons of this crisis are lost on a global population anxious to resume the harmful habits of the past, make your voice heard.
According to a January 8-13, 2020 Pew Research Survey, 52% of American adults say addressing climate change should be a top priority for the President and Congress.
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Sources: NASA, Earth Day Network, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pew, Vice UK, MSNBC, USEIA, EPA