On Earth Day, focus on combat against global warming
If there is one thing that makes this year's Earth Day different from the first one in 1970, it's global warming.
Today we know that an overheating planet is the single biggest environmental problem we face. And, for the first time, Congress is poised to make a serious commitment to fighting global warming. With little time to spare, the public can also do its part by insisting our leaders make this problem a priority.
Since the dawn of the industrial age, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - the primary cause of global warming - has increased 36 percent, according to the U.S. government. Unless we take swift action, heat-trapping emissions will continue to increase and we will lock future generations into a world of more frequent droughts, heat waves, water shortages, wildfires, stronger storms and massive species extinction.
This is an issue that I work on professionally, but it's also a personal one for me. I grew up in Massachusetts, and I remember playing pond hockey, building snow forts that towered over our heads and sledding down the nearest hills all winter long. And it wasn't very long ago that we didn't need air conditioning to survive New England summer days and nights.
But all that's changed.
And it's not just the Northeast climate that's different. People across the United States are seeing changes in their own backyards.
Fortunately, we already have the technology and know-how to deal with global warming. What we're missing is the political will in Washington.
To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia have electricity standards that require utilities to increase their reliance on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. More than 453 cities across the country have committed to reduce their global warming emissions by 2012, and 10 CEOs of major companies recently joined a partnership that calls for mandatory caps on emissions.
While these steps are all encouraging, we need federal policies to obtain the steep reductions that scientists say are necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
To put us on the right path, our government must place a strict cap on the amount of global warming pollution companies can emit, require automakers to increase the fuel economy of our vehicles and mandate a federal renewable electricity standard similar to state standards. Our elected officials need to know that we expect them to support these policies.
Time is of the essence. Because heat-trapping gases stay in the atmosphere for decades, the decisions we make - or fail to make - today will determine how much the Earth will warm for future generations.
We all want our children and grandchildren to grow up in communities that are healthy and prosperous and livable. But that dream won't be possible unless we dedicate ourselves to dramatically reducing global warming emissions from every source.
Let's make future Earth Days a time to commemorate our nation's decision to combat global warming, instead of making them Memorial Days for the planet we once knew.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Kevin Knobloch is the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Mass.