Earth Day 2018

Photo by Mark Graham

Each year the world celebrates Earth Day on April 22. It began in 1970 after a large oil spill occurred off the California coast near Santa Barbara. Concerns about the environment were increasing at the time in the U.S., and Republican President Nixon created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the same year.

Humankind has been using fossil fuels for a long time and their use has helped modernize transportation, manufacturing and agriculture. But since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, human activities have increased the atmospheric concentration of CO2 by 40 percent, from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 406 ppm in early 2017. These trapped emissions act as a blanket around the earth that allows global temperatures to rise, causing severe consequences for humankind,.

The American Meteorological Society has been keeping records of weather since 1919, allowing scientists to understand the changing climate. Those records show that 13 of the 15 hottest years in last 100 occurred between 2000 and 2014. Researchers have found that there is almost a 100 percent certainty that human activities are responsible for the warming of the Earth.

The list of climate change impacts is long and includes heat waves, floods, wildfires, melting glaciers, sea level rise, droughts, severe storms, crop destruction and deforestation, just to name a few. Rising temperatures lead to increased evaporation, filling the atmosphere with more water vapor, a potent greenhouse gas. These conditions create more intense storms, and we saw how serious those can be as hurricanes hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico hard in 2017.

Hurricane Harvey started as a tropical depression but continued to gain strength over the warm waters of the Gulf Coast as it churned towards Texas at the end of last summer. Harvey eventually became a Category 4 hurricane, covering a huge area from the Coastal Bend to Central Texas, and dropped a whopping 51 inches of rain over Houston, causing an estimated $198 billion in damage.

Soon after, Hurricane Irma caused heavy rain and fierce winds along Florida, resulting in an estimated $64.8 billion in damages. Then Hurricane Maria became the strongest storm ever to hit Puerto Rico, with estimated damages of more than $91 billion.

Powerful storms weren't the only damaging consequences of global warming in 2017. The California wildfire season was the most destructive on record, causing an estimated $13 billion in damages. In total, the damages from natural disasters in 2017 alone amounted to between $300 and $400 billion, compared to $46 billion in 2016, and many victims are still waiting for help.

That's why Earth Day this year is especially crucial. We must reverse the warming of the planet by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and developing clean sources of energy. The longer we wait, the harder it will be.

Efforts to halt or slow this warming have been made before. The 1987 Montreal Protocol signed by 197 countries pledging to discontinue the use of ozone depleting chemicals was a success story for the global community, and it has worked hard for years. In 2015, 195 countries signed the Paris Climate Accord to limit global temperature rise. But President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the agreement in 2017, making the U.S. the only country to disengage from global efforts.

A Yale survey of 36 congressional districts in Texas shows 67 percent of adults are concerned about global warming and 75 percent believe in funding research into renewable energy sources. Millennials are broadly convinced human-induced climate change is real and deserves action. Industries, businesses, universities, cities and states are taking action to address it, but more can and should be done.

The Carbon Fee and Dividend policy proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby would put a fee on oil, coal and gas in the U.S. The money collected would be returned to American households, and this rebate would stimulate the economy and make clean energy cheaper and more attractive. The Climate Leadership Council of Republican leaders is proposing a similar solution.

On Earth Day 2018, let us demand action from our lawmakers to find solutions to climate change. Bipartisan groups of lawmakers in the U.S. House are working on it. Let us support them and ask others to join the fight for a livable world.

Kalpana Sutaria

Member, Citizens' Climate Lobby