Earth Day 2022: Invest in Our Planet
By Jean Stewart, Chair, Earth & Environment Task Force
On April 22, 1970, 22 million Americans celebrated the first Earth Day, standing for clean air, land, and water; 52 years later, 1 billion people in more than 193 countries observed Earth Day in April as Earth Month, with the theme “invest in our planet.” Now we know what only a few were beginning to realize in 1970, that Earth’s climate is changing, growing warmer, stormier, and both wetter and drier as weather patterns become more unstable. Increasing temperatures and fast-melting glaciers are raising sea levels, as small- and large-scale changes are simultaneously leading to diminution and extinction of many species of plants and animals. In 2022, most of us know that this is human-caused by our continuing and increasing generation of greenhouse gases (GHGs), mainly carbon dioxide and methane produced when burning fossil fuels, but also by reducing carbon sinks when we clear-cut forests, and widespread factory-style agricultural practices that result in far less green cover.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just issued its sixth Assessment Report on the science related to climate change. The news is even more dire than we thought: Our Earth is warming at an increasing pace, and nations are not keeping up with pledges made in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to reduce fossil fuel emissions and increase mitigation through more sustainable development. Mitigation is defined as human interventions that reduce GHG emissions and enhance carbon sinks, e.g., use of renewable energy sources, waste minimization, public transport, and energy-efficient buildings. The bad news is that, in just another decade, the Earth may reach a tipping point of warming beyond which mitigation will be of little help.
But there is still time, provided that we adhere to our major commitments to invest in our planet. Some of this is happening now: non-fossil sources of energy, especially but not exclusively solar and wind, are dropping in cost and increasing in use. Storage technology is improving, making these sources more dependable as well as practical. On a smaller, but very important scale, individuals and groups are cutting back on waste, including single-use plastics. Plastics are a less-recognized contributor to GHGs. They are made from petroleum and gas—more plastics mean more drilling and fracking—so as people learn to use reusable and biodegradable containers, drilling and fracking will be needed less. Electric cars are becoming more and more popular; as long as the electricity used is from renewable sources of energy, this is a very hopeful sign. A recent article in EnergyWire reports that in the United States, the regional grid provided by the Southwest Power Pool has reached 90% generation from renewables for the first time. New buildings are now more and more energy efficient, and public transit use in many cities is not only increasing in use, but is beginning to transition more and more to electricity.
These are just a few examples of hopeful steps, as well as adaptation measures, that is, adjustment to actual or expected climate change to moderate the harm from such disasters as droughts, floods, and intense wildfires. In many countries, towns, cities, forests, and farms, people are getting busy, investing in our planet while we still have this small window of time.