Celebrating Earth Day

Let’s protect the places and people we love

Earth in 2002 - photo: NASA's Earth Observatory

Opinion

I barely remember the first Earth Day. For me, it was a school event that was all about loving the earth, planting trees, recycling, and not being a litterbug. That day also taught me that adults were taking care of the planet, and I should do my part.  

It seemed easy enough. I grew up, went to college, and kept celebrating Earth Day. 

Then in the early 1990s, I heard about the Keeling Curve, which is a graph of carbon dioxide measurements in the Earth’s atmosphere taken on the big island of Hawaii since 1958. The increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was so alarming that scientists were warning of the consequences of global warming. 

President George H.W. Bush responded by declaring himself the “Environmental President”, vowing that “the United States would lead the world on environmental protection” during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. This was proof that my elected officials were taking care of the problem. 

So, I got a job and got married. We did our part by recycling and supporting local agriculture. Early on, we realized that more stuff did not necessarily mean more happiness. So, we kept our lifestyle modest yet satisfying.

Somewhere after the turn of the millennia, life got very intense. The terrorist attacks in the US by Al-Qaeda left many people feeling unsettled. Were the adults still in charge?

I sure hoped so because our lives had changed dramatically with the arrival of children. Like all new parents, we were completely absorbed with trying to get enough sleep to take care of the kids, put healthy meals on the table, and still get to work on time. As a family, we recycled and volunteered at environmental clean-up events. We shared our love for the planet with our kids; they taught us to see the world with fresh eyes. 

When I heard about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, I was shocked. Where did all the adults go? It took four years for the trial to get through our court system and for a judge to rule that BP was primarily responsible due to gross negligence and reckless conduct. Cold comfort for the people who lost their jobs due to the local economic impacts or suffered health effects from chemical exposure.

Meanwhile, more evidence of climate change was making headlines. The number of extreme weather events that cause a billion dollars or more in damage has increased substantially since the 1980s. 

In 2020, our extended family was threatened by the wildfires near Eugene Oregon and Calistoga CA. We were in the Poeville fire evacuation zone just north of Reno. This time last year, only 27% of the West was in drought. Right now, a shocking 76% of the West is already in drought. Adults must step up to protect the people and places we love.

Most climate scientists (97%) are convinced, based on the evidence, that human-caused global warming is happening. We can mitigate climate change by putting a stop to GHG emissions. It’s not enough to recycle, ride the bus and turn down your thermostat in the winter. Now is the time to take bold action.

Burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) is the biggest contributor to GHG emissions. Yet we continue to subsidize these industries with US taxpayer dollars. That’s got to stop.

Burning fossil fuels is harmful because it’s heating the planet and polluting the air. Air pollution from fossil fuels, and its impact on our health, is worse than we thought. New research shows that premature deaths in America each year due to air pollution are nearly twice as high as previously understood. As many as 1 in 10 American deaths today is caused by air pollution. Communities of color are much more likely to live near polluters, so they are disproportionately burdened by the health problems caused by breathing polluted air.

Fossil fuel companies sell a product that causes harm. They should pay for the damage they are causing.

There is no single solution that will put a stop to climate change. But there is a policy that will set the foundation for a clean economy. Fossil fuel companies should pay a fee on all the coal, oil, or natural gas they pull out of the ground. The fee should cover all the damage caused by burning fossil fuels.

Polluting should no longer be free. Since fossil fuel companies will have higher costs, they will no doubt increase the cost of the products they sell. 

Increasing prices is the spark that ignites innovation and investment in new technologies. It also drives customers to switch to less expensive substitutes for fossil fuels. And, as people buy more things like electric vehicles, manufacturers get better at making them so they lower prices to sell more.

But rising prices also means that people who are already struggling will struggle even more. For example, they’ll pay more for gasoline, electricity, and natural gas used for cooking. Yet these are the households that use fossil fuels the least. 

To fix this problem, we need to take the revenue collected from carbon fees and give households a cashback rebate. One possibility is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA) that was just introduced in Congress. With the dividend, 68 percent of U.S. taxpayers will receive more than enough to compensate for higher prices. This protects low- and middle-income Americans who otherwise might not be able to afford the transition to a clean economy.

The bill is also expected to reduce America’s carbon pollution by 30% in the first 5 years alone. It will save 4.5 million American lives by 2050 by restoring clean air across the country. 

Adults need to step up now. Not tomorrow. I urge you to tell Representative Amodei to act now and endorse the EICDA.


Michelle Hamilton is the Marketing Communications Manager of the Reno/Sparks Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. http://citizensclimatelobby.org/


The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Our newsroom remains entirely independent of our opinion page. Published opinions further public conversation to fulfill our civic responsibility to challenge authority, act independently of corporate or political influence, and invite dissent.