With this year’s Earth Day already in the rearview mirror, many people may not think twice about the special occasion to celebrate and protect the planet we call home. On that one day out of the year, some may plant trees, try to recycle more of their household waste, switch to materials that are more environmentally friendly, or buy greener appliances. Officials give the perfunctory hopeful speeches about adopting better policies, sign pledges, and make declarations in front of a cheering crowd. However, if we want to truly make a difference, Earth Day should be celebrated every day.
Earth Day is always an excellent time to educate people about how our planet sustains us and every other species alive today. To see families planting flowers together, children with their faces completely frozen in fascination at the sight of a passing butterfly, and cities stepping up to make their home a cleaner place to live are all priceless. Environmentalists like me take pride in observing these truly beautiful developments transpire, daring to reignite the hope in our hearts that current generations and those ahead will assume the role of exploring, preserving, and living in harmony with nature. It’s a fleeting glimpse of a future where every human being is no longer what a materialistic society has made them out to be and one in which we have wholly resurrected our primordial spirits.
Sadly, that glimpse is fleeting indeed. Once the day ends, most of us no longer give any thought to the crisis that our planet is enduring and the persistent breakdown of ecosystems across the world. We go back to the material world that shackles us to technology, pollution, chronic stress, divisive politics, social dysfunction, poverty, and the complete forfeit of what life should be. Isochronously, the planet grows warmer accompanied by the multitude of omnipresent effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently published its newest report detailing the dire circumstances that our negativistic activities have fueled.
The IPCC found that the planet will most likely reach a crucial threshold for warming within the following decade with global temperatures expected to rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the first half of the 2030s (Plumer, 2023). From our current standpoint, we are already past the 1-degree Celsius mark while warming has accelerated at a pace that researchers didn’t anticipate. No one needs to be a scientist to fully comprehend the damages being rendered. Wildfires sear states like California in the U.S., heatwaves overwhelm energy grids and kill millions worldwide, sea level rise threatens island nations and other coastal communities, droughts decimate crops and strain farmers, and unstable economies buckle under the pressure to adapt. Research posits that every tenth of a degree can make these effects more severe, thus stressing the importance of limiting the progression of warming.
If we are to have any chance of drastically reducing the effects of climate change in addition to the exorbitant amounts of GHGs in the atmosphere, the IPCC strongly advises that nations quickly come together and slash emissions in half by 2030 while eliminating all carbon emissions by 2050. The consequences of both our harm and inaction are so alarming that, even if we adhered to the body’s recommendations, there will still only be a 50% chance of stopping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (Plumer, 2023). The current path we’re on barely scrapes the surface of all that must be done, especially when highly industrialized countries such as the United States and China are launching new fossil fuel projects. China, for example, has announced plans for 168 new coal-fired power plants, and the United States approved the massive Willow Project that is set to drill on sensitive land in Alaska (Plumer, 2023).
One of the most challenging roadblocks before us is the political divide that has made environmental oversight into a partisan issue. We’re forced to balance our sense of urgency with the short-term need for fossil fuels as many nations begin to shift toward renewable energy. In the United States, many conservatives pan talks of climate change solutions as many aim for the future elimination of nonrenewable sources. Billions in subsidies are provided for these corporations each year coupled with campaign donations from said corporations. Of course, there are still Republicans who want to foster climate talks, but the present atmosphere as a whole is still volatile with little to no room for compromise.
The United States has passed bills like the Inflation Reduction Act which lays out a plan to slash the nation’s emissions 40% by 2030, the Growing Climate Solutions Act which allows farmers and landowners to receive credit for pursuing sustainable activities, and the bipartisan infrastructure law which paves the way for more EV charging stations and other green infrastructure projects. President Biden has also signed a plethora of executive orders. Some of the most notable included our rejoining the 2015 Paris Agreement, stopping oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, restoring protections to Tongass National Forest, and to embed environmental justice into the work of federal agencies. Certainly, these are all commendable acts, but we still lack the spirit that’s required to fully grip this international emergency.
Under the policies that national governments have in place now, the planet is projected to warm up by 2.1 to 2.9 degrees Celsius this century (Plumer, 2023). If that were to happen, there would be no more coral reefs to sustain our oceans, no more glaciers and ice caps, millions of species gone, infertile soil to prevent successful farming, island countries gone due to sea level rise, severe heat waves and droughts across the world, global famines, and ecosystems wiped out. The list goes on, so this is why we have to collectively step up our efforts to circumvent this apocalyptic scenario. However, there is reason to look on the bright side, too.
As Plumer writes in the New York Times, the possibility of our planet surpassing average temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius has greatly diminished thanks to countries taking greater strides in clean energy investments. Eighteen of them in particular, one of them being the U.S., have managed to reduce their emissions for more than a decade. Meanwhile, green energy technologies have dropped in price and will continue on this downward trend for years to come as fossil fuels become scarcer. The world is gradually becoming more aware of the seriousness of climate change and greater numbers of citizens are becoming more educated on both the science and societal implications of it.
By far, we are moving in the right direction, but the key is how fast we wish to get there. The speed in which developed nations move to curb emissions and promulgate the investment/application of green technologies will determine how much warmer the planet becomes. In the United States, we do have more funding for clean energy projects and infrastructure, but it’s dependent on permitting reform to ensure that there is sufficient implementation of them. The Inflation Reduction Act covers the fundamentals of what a clean energy future would mostly entail here. It’s up to the states and permitting, though, to allocate the funds available through the law and convert the energy grid to support said technologies. Like a car, we have the tools to go where we want, but without the engine, any movement would be impossible.
House Republicans are discussing permitting reform and have passed H.R. 1, the Lower Energy Costs Act. The bill is meant to fast track the approval process for American energy production on federal lands, expedite hard rock mining, repeal the natural gas tax, and expedite the permitting process for major projects (infrastructurereportcard.org). While some aspects of it are needed, there needs to be a fair balance between establishing our energy independence and exercising environmental prudence. Our public lands must remain protected to ensure that biodiversity and their respective habitats survive. Further research has revealed that we need to protect 30% of our lands and waters to decelerate species loss, keeping ecosystem services available for our benefit.
Provided Democratic control of the Senate and the presidency, the omnibus package is expected to be dead on arrival in the former. In one way, it’s unfortunate because there are some nice takeaways we could emphasize going forward, one of them being the need to break away from fossil fuel dependency from entities like OPEC which is currently slashing production. Rising fuel costs are coming at a time when inflation remains high, and families are struggling to cope. However, too many conservatives are trying to use rising costs as an excuse to pursue projects that will exacerbate climate change even more. Our culture has drifted away from the main goal due to the endless distractions that pervade our television screens and airways. Inflation itself is not a distraction, but the anti-green approaches and propaganda that’s circulating as of late definitely are.
We have basically waited too long to take effective action in ways that would save us billions of dollars in the long run and help us avoid costly tradeoffs to protecting our natural resources. The World Meteorological Organization has determined that saving glaciers from melting is now a lost cause because of our procrastination and how there is simply too much carbon in the atmosphere to keep them intact (www.dw.com). Sea level rise has increased by over 4 millimeters in the past decade and will only get worse if temperatures keep ticking up. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are now over 419 parts per million, so there is the additional task of finding ways to sequester them ourselves! This will be a tall order since the technology required for this is still in the nascent stages.
Among the negative tradeoffs that come with addressing climate change are job losses attributed to winding down fossil fuel projects, less land for agriculture when setting aside more forests for protection, and mining more metals to make batteries for electric vehicles. Hundreds of billions more will have to be spent to try and prepare for many effects that are now unavoidable (Plumer, 2023). The summation of these findings should spur us on a new path that reconnects us with our planet, to make each day Earth Day in every sense of the occasion. While we are more affluent now than ever as a species, that doesn’t always translate to a healthy life.
While it may sound counterintuitive, I believe the best way forward is to actually go back to some of our long-buried roots, to reconnect with who we used to be. Long ago, we lived in harmony with nature and respected the land that gave us everything we needed. We didn’t let religion, politics, or materialism define us. Our only god was the earth, so, while we can’t all physically go back to those times thousands of years ago, we can decide whether or not we want the follies of modern society to remain in full control. Let’s take actions that are for the betterment of ourselves and the planet each day without letting societal expectations lead us astray. Besides, it won’t matter what critics say if we don’t have a healthy world to endure for future generations!
I yearn for the days when we grew our own food, cheered for blessing rains, ran in the fields, smelled flowers, and stared in awe at luscious forests and other magnificent scenes of inarticulate beauty that this world can still offer if we let it. Our primordial spirit that restores our connection to other biodiversity wants to be free, so we should stop repressing it. These are the revelations we must make if we wish to not only address climate change but to live as tangible organisms unfettered by the chains of our own machination. As Walt Whitman once so famously declared, “I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world…I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love. If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.”
The following sources consulted for this article are listed as follows: