DemDaily: Status of the Planet

April 20, 2023

The 53rd anniversary of Earth Day is this Saturday, shining a light on the status of the planet. Mother Earth is pleading with us to listen.

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.

Status of the Planet
While the pandemic provided an initial reprieve from the daily pollution and environmental impact of mass transportation, manufacturing and energy consumption, the climate catastrophes of the last decade are a stark reminder of the damage already caused to 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.

The resulting increased temperature trends cause sea level rise and ice mass loss worldwide, as well as shifts in plant bloom and extreme weather events.

Global Warming: The last decade has witnessed the warmest temperatures on record since global records began in 1880. Since then, the planet's average surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degrees Celsius), a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide emissions.

"Human activity is responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years." - Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Greenhouse gases: The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat and make the planet warmer, come from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation. In 2021, according to the EPA, that broke down to: transportation (28%), electricity production (25%), industry (23%), commercial and residential activity (13%) and agriculture (10%).

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. The rate in the last two decades alone is nearly double that of the last century and accelerating slightly every year.

Extreme Weather Events: Climate change disasters have tripled in the last 30 years, including extreme weather events like droughts, heatwaves, forest fires, hurricanes and floods.

Since 1950, the number of record-high temperature events in the US has been increasing, causing a shift in the seasons, with falls, winters, and springs growing shorter, while summer extends into the traditionally cooler months.

"Our country’s natural treasures define our identity as a nation. They’re a birthright we have to pass down to generation after generation. They unite us. It provides a bridge to our past and to our future -- not just for today, but for all ages." - President Joe Biden, March 2023

The Status of the US
On January 20, 2021, day one of his administration, President Joe Biden signed an executive order reinstating the United States into the Paris Agreement and reversed several of former President Donald Trump's actions that had weakened environmental protections.

He established the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) and the country's first US Climate Envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Biden also established the historic Justice40 Initiative to commit at least 40% of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy to overburdened communities.

In April of 2021, Biden hosted the Leaders Summit on Climate, attended by 40 world leaders, to underscore the urgency of climate action and to restore the United States' credibility on the international stage.

The President's Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, signed into law in November 2021, dedicated billions of dollars to climate investments, including clean energy jobs, infrastructure, transportation, clean water, technology, research and development. The bill, and the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law August 2022, represent the largest investment in climate and environmental justice and conservation ever anywhere in the world.

The US led historic efforts at the annual international meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP), or signatories, to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2021 and 2022.

COP26 accelerated action toward the goal of reaching global net-zero carbon emissions targets by mid-century, and COP27 established a fund to help vulnerable countries deal with losses and damages from the impacts of climate change.

The US helped launch the Global Methane Pledge, the First Movers Coalition on sustainable supply chains, and the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use. COP27 also saw the reestablishment of formal bilateral climate discussions between the US and China to help the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters find areas of common ground to confront the climate crisis.

According to a March 13-19, 2023 Pew Research Survey, a majority of US adults (54%) describe climate change as a major threat to the country’s well-being. By political party, nearly eight-in-ten Democrats (78%) agreed with that statement compared to just one-in-four Republicans (23%). MOE: +/- 1.4%

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Sources: NASA, National Centers for Environmental Information, EPA, White House, Reuters, Earthday.org

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