OP-ED Written by Michael Curtain, Editorial Chair
The annual event we now know as Earth Day (April 22) began in 1970 but was born from an idea developed by peace activist John McConnell in 1969 at a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Conference in San Francisco.
The thought was to have a day dedicated to honoring the environment we all cherish. The original date to have Earth Day was March 21, 1970 but was later changed to April 22 through a proclamation developed and written by McConnell and then U.N. Secretary-General U-Thant.
Subsequently, U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, suggested an idea for an environmental teach-in to be held on April 22, 1970. A strong environmental advocate, Denis Hayes, also from Wisconsin, was hired to be the National Coordinator of this day. It would ultimately be named Earth Day by Nelson and Hayes. The UN General Assembly designated 22 April as International Mother Earth Day through resolution A/RES/63/278, adopted in 2009. And, thus, Earth Day was born and the day we honor the environment continues today.
The theme for 2021 is “Restore Our Earth” examining “…natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems…” It is a day to raise the consciousness of the global public to understand the importance each of us has collectively to maintain and protect our environment for future generations. This concept of sustainable development was developed by the former Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, in the World Commission on Environment and Development’s Brundtland Report, “Our Common Future” in 1987. Sustainable development was defined in the report as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Much of the focus today in preserving and protecting the environment centers on climate change and the devastating consequences that will result if the international community does not get an adequate handle on controlling it. The cause of climate change was not aided by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord in 2016.
In recent days, however, U.S. President Biden’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, John Kerry, met with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, in Shanghai to discuss what the world’s two leaders of the global economy can do to mitigate the effects of climate change. One of President Biden’s first executive orders he signed was to have the U.S. re-join the global climate accord.
Despite the tensions that exist between the two powers, they have agreed to work together and to cooperate on controlling emissions, the leading cause of climate change. On April 22nd and 23rd, the President will host a virtual climate summit of 40 world leaders, including China. Ahead of the conference, Secretary of State Antony Blinken indicated that the U.S. is behind China when it comes to climate change. This is one of the reasons that the Biden administration has made combatting climate change a priority.
In remarks delivered at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland, Mr. Blinken made the following remarks, “It’s difficult to imagine the United States winning the [long-term] strategic competition with China if we cannot lead the renewable energy revolution. Right now, [we’re] falling behind.”
The administration has prioritized investment in infrastructure and technology “…as a national security and environmental imperative” as we have seen from the president’s $2T infrastructure plan that was recently released. The importance of transitioning to renewable energies cannot be underestimated. The voracious appetite for coal in Asia, especially in China, has had an adverse effect upon lessening the climate change’s effects upon the world. The importance of global cooperation on this issue cannot be emphasized enough.
Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed the importance of reducing reliance on coal. Speaking to members of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, he said that “keeping temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is achievable over this decade.” He added that there must be an end to the “deadly addiction to coal.” , specifically, as it pertains to the 37 member states of the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He urged the group to eliminate all coal projects planned in the future which nations have been compelled to do by 2030. Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) #7 -Affordable and Clean Energy - addresses the need for ensuring “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy.”
The foresight and vision of leaders such as John McConnell, Senator Nelson, and Denis Hayes sensed something was amiss regarding the state of our planet when they called for a day dedicated exclusively to the environment that we call Earth Day. Each one of us as global citizens can not lose sight of the importance of maintaining a safe and healthy environment for all to enjoy – not just today – but in the future as well.