Are You Hopeful or Worried on Earth Day?

Today marks the day we consider the health of the Earth. We all lead busy lives, so it is fitting that on this Earth Day we especially take some time to reflect on the human impacts of climate change. Those that closely follow climate change know that, depressingly, there is only a slim chance that we can reduce warming our planet enough to avert catastrophe for our children and theirs.  

Fortunately, there have been many recent events showing that more and more people are paying attention. By events, I don’t mean the wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, freezes, and other more frequent natural disasters. I mean the increasing divestiture of fossil fuel interests; the increased deployment of clean energy technologies including solar, wind, geothermal, and electric vehicles; the increased attention of better land management and the call for improvement of animal agriculture, including an end to factory farming; and among others, the increased attention to our oceans regarding the multiple crises of ocean acidification, pervasive overfishing and bottom trawling, and plastic pollution.

There are other promising signs that positive momentum is building. Look no further for the groundswell than from Greta Thunberg and the younger generations. Or the recent book and initiatives by Bill Gates. Or the recent private-partnerships of General Mills, Netflix, LinkedIn and other business leaders with the esteemed Project Drawdown organization. Perhaps most notable, is the absolute reversal of the US government, and its reengagement in climate-change mitigation, re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement, and – heralded just today – big targets announced in the Leaders Summit on Climate (Earth Day Live).

All well and good; yes, all well and good. What worries me is that, while these efforts are supremely admirable and absolutely necessary – finally “a start,” they won’t be enough to reverse the effects of physics and rising temperatures. The only thing that can counteract physics, is physics itself. That means not just a change in attitudes, but changes in business models and industrial policies that promote these hard changes; changes in international oversight and coercion for countries to meet their climate obligations; changes in the international treatment of women and girls, and of family planning; changes in taxation and penalties for every entity and every person that over-pollutes greenhouse gases, and incentives for those that don’t.

Do we have the will to meet these types of necessary changes? How will we do it? For example, do we abandon the employees and employers that are in the path of the storm, the fossil fuel companies, the animal agriculture companies, the fisheries, and others? Should we instead re-invest in their transition to clean and sustainable futures? Will we put teeth into the international agreements, with meaningful incentives and penalties? Will industry and business leaders embrace more efficient, clean, and sustainable futures that may contradict the capitalist model? Will individuals consider adopting plant-based diets, driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, and having fewer children?

These are the thoughts I have on Earth Day. I believe people and industry can realize the straits we’re in and that their changes will make a difference. And I believe governments can act together to encourage, invest, and enforce necessary changes towards a cooler planet. I am hopeful but I am concerned. We can do it! But will we.

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