April 23, 2020

Earth Day

“The world marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left calls for renewed collective action in order to avert the harmful effects of climate change.

“More than a quarter of all birds have vanished from the United States since 1970, a loss of nearly 3 billion animals. Over the past decade, 467 species were declared extinct… These extinctions were driven by habitat loss, overfishing, competition from invasive species, and climate change…

“[Trees] are an important bulwark against climate change, cooling the air around them, capturing and storing carbon, supporting other species, and cycling moisture... A research team last year found that helping forests recover and regenerate could soak up a large share of all the greenhouse gas emissions humanity has ever produced… Yet the world also received a shocking glimpse in the past year of how vulnerable even the mightiest forests can be. The Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest, suffered its highest rate of decline in more than a decade in 2019 driven by logging, mining, and agriculture.”
Umair Irfan, Brian Resnick, and Eliza Barclay, Vox

“It’s startling to recall just how dirty America was in 1970. Rust Belt cities (which hadn’t yet fully rusted) suffered air-pollution levels comparable to Beijing’s in recent years; Los Angeles and smog were synonymous. The air in Mobile, Alabama, was so bad that it was costing people almost four years of their lives. So it wasn’t hard to get people marching: estimates of participation in that first glorious [Earth] day run at twenty million, or ten per cent of the American population at the time… All that marching worked: the shift in the Zeitgeist forced Richard Nixon to sign one law after another, from the Clean Water Act to the Endangered Species Act. And those laws worked: air pollution has dropped by more than sixty per cent across America since 1970, and life expectancy has grown by 1.5 years on average as a result…

“[But] after 1970, we chose to do the easy and obvious stuff, and we didn’t transform our systems—or our outlooks—in fundamental ways. Instead of pollution that you can see (and smell), in this century we’re increasingly dealing with what the President might call an ‘invisible enemy’: the carbon-dioxide molecule… This time, there’s no easy technical fix, just turning off the fossil fuels and replacing them with renewable energy. But that means turning off the giant companies that dominate the hydrocarbon economy. That’s not an argument about science—that’s a fight about power.”
Bill McKibben, New Yorker

Environmental writer Emma Marris states that “It was British Petroleum that first popularized the individual carbon footprint calculator, because it really puts all of the burden and guilt about solving climate change on the individual consumer’s shoulders… take the hours that you spend now feeling guilty and reallocate them to collective action… You might not change fossil fuel policy for the entire United States, but you might get a cool bike lane put in your city that encourages a lot more people to take that option to commute… It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the complexities of this extremely wicked problem. And that’s why we all need to do a division of labor and collective action. That’s the only thing that’s going to get it done.”
Charles Duhigg, Slate

“The [IRENA] group’s Global Renewables Outlook concludes that greater investment in green energy would improve the cumulative gross domestic product by $98 trillion by 2050 and bring with it 42 million jobs. The return on investment: $3 to $8 for every $1 invested. The report also found that the same capital would cut CO2 emissions by 70% by 2050; renewables would replace fossil fuels used for both the industrial and transport sectors.”
Ken Silverstein, Forbes

“A cooler planet with more livable cities and healthier ecosystems will be in a stronger position to fight public health emergencies, especially where contagions are involved. And a better organized and funded public health system will be more equipped to address the next hurricane or flood that leaves cities and rural areas alike confronting death and disease, especially in low-income populations. Finally, with an economy in free fall, we need to put people back to work, as soon as it is safe. The U.S. clean energy industry — in companies large and small — is a smart place to focus… China has made that bet, and we should as well, if only to strengthen U.S. competitiveness.”
Dan Reicher, The Hill

From the Right

The right is skeptical of overly pessimistic climate predictions and calls for a re-evaluation of priorities in climate policy.

The right is skeptical of overly pessimistic climate predictions and calls for a re-evaluation of priorities in climate policy.

“By 1970, many leading environmentalists were predicting the end of the world. Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich was perhaps the leading apocalypse proponent. For Earth Day, he predicted that environmental deterioration would kill 65 million Americans, and that globally, 4 billion would die before the year 2000… Not only were these predictions spectacularly wrong, but they were outlandish when first made. Yet in a world where more alarm gets more attention, they started a trend of framing environmental issues in worst-case ways. The tone scares, it depresses — and it likely skews our focus and spending.”
Bjorn Lomborg, New York Post

“The progress of economies around the world shows that environmental quality and economic prosperity go hand in hand — they are allies, not enemies… Numerous studies show that once GDP per capita reaches a certain threshold, pollution begins to plummet. Human well-being is essential to responsible care for the environment, not the other way around. The best long-term solution for our environment is to promote freedom and economic growth…

“Over the last 50 years, the United States has dramatically reduced emissions of the six key pollutants that harm human health. Lead, ozone, carbon monoxide, and other harmful airborne substances have declined by 74% — all while our economy, population, vehicle miles traveled, and energy consumption have skyrocketed. Our cities are no longer shrouded by smog and toxic fumes, despite our dramatic growth… Our unprecedented environmental successes came not at the hands of big-government programs or stifling economic growth, but rather through a careful balance of reasonable, predictable regulations and free market innovation.”
Jason Isaac, Washington Examiner

“[The U.S] is itself only responsible for 14 percent of global emissions. To resolve a global challenge like atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations would require more international coordination and compliance than our present geopolitics would suggest is possible. If we cannot trust the Chinese Communist Party to relay critical epidemiological information, such as the virus’s genetic sequence or even the number of deaths it has caused, why should we trust it, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to enforce emissions policies detrimental to the sectors that have [enabled] the country’s economic ascent?”
Jordan McGillis, National Review

Some ask, “When did Republicans stop leading on environmental issues? Ours is the party of Teddy Roosevelt, who championed the protection of public lands; of Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service (and later the governor of Pennsylvania); and Richard Nixon, who created the Environmental Protection Agency…

“I continue to support policies that embrace all sources of energy, including natural gas, which has lowered our dependence on coal. I also support nuclear power, the largest around-the-clock provider of carbon-free energy. Yet many of my conservative friends have been reluctant to join me in supporting renewable technologies such as wind and solar. These and other advancements not only address dangerous greenhouse-gas emissions, but also are helping improve our economy with new jobs.”
Tom Ridge, The Atlantic

Environmental policy technologist Matt Frost states, “I don’t think there’s going to be any radical discontinuity in how humans choose to organize their lives and how they choose to make their lives more comfortable… I think that our policy emphasis should be on technology breakthroughs. We should be funding carbon capture research and bringing the price on that down…

“And I do think that cheap, clean, energy is something that — especially as the people in the developing world become wealthier — is tremendously popular. Energy is the primal commodity. And so an energy breakthrough is something that we should be pushing and wishing for on a popular level and funding from a policy level — just as much as if we were in the 70s. An energy breakthrough is absolutely where a lot of human imagination and engineering talent and resources should be devoted.”
James Pethokoukis, American Enterprise Institute

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