by E. Lynn Grayson, Nijman•Franzetti LLP; CBA Second Vice President
On Wednesday, April 22, 2020, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. In 1970, the celebration of the first Earth Day launched an environmental movement that continues today to protect our environment and safeguard our natural resources. Is environmental protection succeeding in the U.S.? What progress has been made over the last 50 years? USAFACTS analyzed metrics from government agencies responsible for measuring the air, land conservation and energy production in the U.S. These are historical metrics for perspective—whether they mark positive, negative or neutral changes for land, energy and air in the U.S. is up to you. See USAFACTS at https://usafacts.org/earth-day-facts/environment-climate.
- Eighty percent of U.S. energy consumed is from fossil fuels, but the share of U.S. energy consumption from nuclear and renewable sources has nearly doubled since 1980 to 20% in 2019;
- Forty-two percent of U.S. renewable energy consumption is from nuclear sources, followed by 25% from biomass like wood and biofuels;
- The average American generated more than 4.5 lbs. of solid trash (food waste, paper, etc.), up from 3.6 lbs. per day in 1980;
- In 1980, the average U.S. county had good air quality 59% of days—in 2018, the average county had good air quality 81% of days;
- 2019 was the second-warmest year globally in the 140-year record with temperatures 1.71˚F warmer than the 20th century average and 2016 was the warmest year on record; and
- Between 1895 and 2019, the average temperature in 50% of U.S. counties rose more than 2.7˚F, a key threshold of climate warming identified by NASA.
Many believe that the COVID-19 pandemic may serve as another wake-up call: if we do not take action to protect the planet, pandemics and extreme weather events could soon become more commonplace due to climate change and other impacts on the environment. As we celebrate Earth Day 2020, what do you believe are the greatest environmental challenges facing the U.S.? In recognition of Earth Day, the following resources provide updated information about environmental issues and climate change.
1. Climate Change: Learn more about the evidence related to global climate change from NASA at https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence.
2. Environment and Ecology: Participate in the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism 2020 Digital Summit to learn more about environmental and ecological progress and challenges around the world at https://earthoptimism.si.edu.
3. Water Quality and Scarcity: The Water Project provides an update on U.S. water quality and scarcity concerns at https://thewaterproject.org/water-scarcity/water_scarcity_in_us.
4. Celebrate Earth Day and #StayAtHome: Enjoy the collection of Earth Day events recommended by Columbia University’s Earth Institute to gain more insight about climate, earth sciences, ecology and the environment through lectures, digital programs, environmental films and documentaries, social media and other activities and events at https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2020/04/17/celebrate-earth-day-covid-19.
Over the last 50 years, tremendous progress has been made to protect the environment and safeguard our country’s natural resources. The creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of key federal environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act ushered in a new regulatory regime where industrial wastes, air emissions and water discharges were monitored, measured and controlled through aggressive federal and state enforcement initiatives. While environmental protection efforts are ongoing at the federal, state and local levels, the environmental challenges faced by the U.S. today may be even more difficult to address. I believe the most significant environmental challenges facing the U.S. at this time are water quality and water scarcity.
What are the most significant environmental challenges in your opinion? Take advantage of the special resources available during Earth Day Week to learn more about what environmental issues are important to you.