Newswire: Renew commitment to environment on 50th anniversary of Earth Day

Michele S. Byers, USA Today


Fifty years ago, people took to streets and campuses across America to sound the alarm on pollution and demand stronger environmental protections.
The occasion was the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, an idea conceived by U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson after witnessing the ecological damage caused by a massive oil spill in California the year before.
Across the country, an estimated 20 million people celebrated the inaugural Earth Day by taking part in cleanups, teach-ins, lectures and peaceful demonstrations. In New Jersey, the state officially launched the Department of Environmental Protection.
The journalist Peter Benchley (who later went on to write “Jaws”) reported at the time, “Earth Day has accomplished what no individual or organization has been able to do in years — the unification of large and diverse segments of the American populace in common purpose.”
Over the last 50 years, Earth Day has become a spring ritual, a time to teach children about the environment, plant trees and gardens, pick up litter in parks and on beaches, renew calls for environmental protection, and look for ways to live more sustainably.
This year, Earth Day will be a subdued occasion due to the coronavirus pandemic. Schools are closed and organized cleanups and public celebrations — like the one planned in Trenton, New Jersey, for the Department of Environmental Protection’s 50th anniversary — have been postponed.
Over the last 50 years, Earth Day has become a spring ritual, a time to teach children about the environment, plant trees and gardens, pick up litter in parks and on beaches, renew calls for environmental protection, and look for ways to live more sustainably.
This year, Earth Day will be a subdued occasion due to the coronavirus pandemic. Schools are closed and organized cleanups and public celebrations — like the one planned in Trenton for the Department of Environmental Protection’s 50th anniversary — have been postponed.
Proposed rollbacks include weakening automobile fuel efficiency standards, loosening controls on toxic ash from coal plants, relaxing restrictions on mercury emissions, eliminating some protections for migratory birds, and weakening the consideration of climate change in environmental reviews for most infrastructure projects.
All told, these rollbacks could significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and lead to thousands of more deaths from poor air quality every year, according to a report by New York University Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center. Given the threat to our health from COVID-19, we can ill afford to roll back regulations that protect the public from the impacts of pollution.
“The coronavirus is obviously not a good thing, and this catastrophe is not the way any reasonable person would plan on having the world lower its carbon footprint,” said Robert Routh, an attorney with the Clean Air Council, in an interview with PBS station WHYY. “But if anything, it should demonstrate that climate change is driven by human activity and our actions and behaviors, on a wide scale, affect emissions.”
Why not put the right plans and policies in place to transition our electric, transportation, building and industrial sectors away from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy? This would rapidly and significantly reduce the emissions that harm our health and climate. Investing in a clean energy economy would also create thousands of good, local jobs and help put people back to work.

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