Earth Day 2020 Message

What does the COVID-19 pandemic have in common with climate change? Like climate change the COVID-19 pandemic shines a blinding spotlight on an economic system so devoid of morals and so consumed with greed that it values maximizing wealth to its shareholders more than life itself. It requires continuous growth to survive and takes no responsibility for the destruction to lives it leaves behind or the earth it destroys. There is not one iota of sanity in this economic system, yet the myth of free-market caitalism persists.

In spite of all the Earth Day celebrations, all the enviroonmental protest rallies, all the political lobbying over decades, all the newspaper articles and all the United Nations Conferences of the Parties (COP) trying to bring attention of the urgency of climate change to the world, it took a young lady in Sweden, Greta Thunberg, to get the world’s attention.

Realizing that if we keep burning fossil fuels, she won’t have a future by the time she’s in her mid-forties, she felt it was imperative to speak up. She asked herself, what good is school if I don’t survive anyyway, so she started by skipping school on Fridys. She began by sitting in front of the Swedish Parliment building in protest. This evolved into a movemet called “#FridayForFuture that grew to over 1.6 million youth in 133 countries. They call out governments, corporations and their parents to stop burning fosssil fuels immediately to protect their futures.

Greta participated in the United Nations Climate Action Summmit in 2019 and emphatically appealed to attending world leaders, “Can you hear me?” She admonished them, “Shame on you,” for doing nothing to cut carbon emissions to save humanity’s future.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight!”

It took a teenager with the spine of a steel beam and the wisdom of Solomon to bring the world’s attention to the ineptness of our world “leaders”.

On the heels of Greta’s rebukes came the COVID-19 pandemic further exposing incompetent leadership. As with climate change, there was deplorable planning, scant resources and more concern about protecting the bottom line than fixing the problem and saving lives. Bill Gates gave a clear warning that a pandemic was imminent in a TED Talk back in 2015 and defined several necessary steps to prepare for it. Obviously, he was ignored.

Greta: “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!”

The Gap Analysis Report of 2019 states, “Greenhouse Gas (GHG)emissions have risen at a rate of 1.5 percent per year in the last decade. Total GHG , including from land-use change, reached a record high of 55.3 GtCO2e in 2018. Fossil CO2 emissions from energy use and industry, which dominate total GHG emissions, grew 2.0 percent in 2018, reaching a record 37.5 GtCO2 per year. As IPCC scientists Katherine Hayhoe points out, “CO2 in the atmosphere is now higher than any time in the last 15 million years.”

Emission cuts promised from each country, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), must be increased fivefold in 2020 to achieve the 1.5 degree Celcius goal of emission cuts by 2050. Not one member of the G20 countries have committed to a timeline to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Greta: “The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control. Fifty percent may be acceptible to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So, a 50% risk is simply not acceptible to us – we who have to live with the consequences.

You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really undestood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.

To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degree global rise, the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on January 1st, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons. There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.”

According to the OECD-IEA’s estiments, there is around 53 years of oil, 54 years of natural gas and 110 years of coal left to burn before we run out. That’s easily more than enough to cook the planet.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects a 28% increase in world energy use by 2040. Fossil fuels are projected to comprise 75% of that based on a business-as-usual trend, global carbon emissions are forecast to increase to some 43.08 billion metric tons in 2050, in comparison to 35.3 billion metric tons of carbondioxide in 2018.

COVID-19 brought world industries to their knees dropping CO2 emissions by as much as 25% particularly in China. For one thing, this proves that burning carbon is causing climate change, not a natural cycle. Don’t think that we’re off the hook with climate change because of the temporary decrease. We’ve pumped so much carbon into the atmosphere that NOAA recorded carbon levels at 414.50 parts per million (PPM) in March 2020, up from a preindustrial level of 280 PPM over the past 800,000 years. That carbon will remain up there for a century or two heating up the planet. Surely, as soon as the pandemic is gone industry will slam back into gear and run at breakneck capacity to regain its loses and CO2 emissions willincrease exponentially.

Greta: “How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions? With today’s emission levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than 8 1/2 years.”

Meanwhile, while the COVID-19 pandemic ravished the United States and other nations around the world, President Trump declared a rollback of America’s auto emission rules. Cars and trucks are the largest contributors of CO2 in the US. His rule drops automaker fleets miles per gallon (MPG) average from 54 MPG to 40 MPG. This will lead to a billion tons more CO2 in the atmosphere and the consumption of ~ 80 billion more gallons of gas during the life of the vehicles during the terms of the rule. The auto industry is not even in favor of the rule and twenty states are suing the administration to try to stop it.

The insanity of free-market capitalism is exposed by their continuing pursuit of a fossil economy while seemingly blind to the blatant evidence that’s staring them right in the face. Evidence like NOAA’s report that shows that January 2020 was the 44th consecutive January and the 421st consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th century average. And, a report that shows that between Greenland and Antarctica 6.4 trillion tons of ice melted since the 1990s. And, as the world watched in horror, Austrailia burnt to a crisp killing over a billion animals, wildfires ravished California and many other parts of the world that weren’t reported on the news.

Other parts of the world ravished by mega storms or droughts or sealevel rise is forcing populations of refugees into unwanted territories causing conflict, economic and health issues. In fact, 8 of the world’s 10 largest cities are coastal cities. When sealevel inundates them where will their people go? The UN predicts there could possibly be one billion environmental migrants by 2050. What a disruption to humanity that will be! A recent study in Nature shows that if we fail to cut CO2 enough to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celcius climate damage will cost the world $36 trillion. If you think it costs too much to address climate change, who’s going to pay for that?

These events are staring our leaders right in the face, but our monotonous drone of warnings present them with such an inconvenient truth that they prefer to ignore us and listen to fossil industry financed lies hyping that climate science is junk science or a liberal hoax. Yet, when the effects of climate change become as deadly as COVID-19, and it will – it’s coming sooner than you think – leaders will again scramble uprepared with no plan, no resources and no solutions and millions of people will die.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

A giant first step woud be to divert government fossil industry investments into clean energy technologies. An IEA analysis report shows that governments drive around 70% of global energy investments. The climate crisis dictates that governments divert those investments into sustainable energy for the sake of our survival.

In addition to the subsidies, over the past three years, JP Morgan Chase lent $196 billion to the fossil-fuel industry, 29% more than any bank on earth. Over that same time, they lent 63% more money to other fossil-fuel industry projects like new ppelines, Arctic drilling and deep-sea exploration.

According to information compiled by Bloomberg, other banks financing the fossil industry include Citigroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, the Royal Bank of Canada, and Toronto Domnion. Just since the paris Climate Change Agreement these banks financed over $700 billion in fossil industry projects.

It’s no wonder renewable energy businesses can’t thrive when the finances are biased toward the fossil industry creating such an enormous unfair playing field!

Rather than financing climate change, we should be taxing the fossil industry for their fossil extractions and paying that money to taxpaying citizens as a dividend to offset the higher price of fossil fuels.

The next step: take the Green New Deal seriously. Don’t accept the opinion of the naysayers that are mostly funded by the fossil industry for its own self-preservation. Naysayers have presented no better alternatives except more of the same dangerous fossil-based economics. Sure, the Green New Deal isn’t perfect, but it’s a giant step toward a safer future.

Considering that governments hold the power to drive investments, they are also the only ones with the power to fund and support large research projects and infrastructure changes like retooling power grids and converting energy resources from fossil to renewables on large regional or national scales. They need to be driving investments toward solar, wind, nuclear, hydrogen, new battery technologies and carbon capture technologies and energy efficient buildings.

The Coronavirus isolation proves to us how efficient working at home can be for certain sectors of the economy. Jobs that can be done via telecommuting reduces the time and money needed to commute to and from the workplace. Corporationsn would save millions of dollars and valuable work time by not traveling to offsite meetings and conferences by holding webinars instead. If this were to become permanent, it would reduce city traffic, the need for so many parking lots, the strain on public transportation and reduce the CO2 and pollution emissions associated with it. The United Nations and the IPCC may want to consider this, given the amount of travel their people do.

This would enable more energy efficient changes to city landscapes. Skyscrapers would no longer be needed. Most skyscrapers are energy pits and worse, much of heir structure is made of cement and concrete. Affordable housing could replace parking lots and billions of dollards could be saved from unneeded highway and airport runway expansion projects. Cities could convert some unneeded parking areas into greenspace parks with stormwater filtration areas that will also reduce the island heat effect.

Cutting down on cement production would help lower CO2 emissions. Cement makes up approximately 2.4 percent of global CO2 emissions from industrial and energy sources.

Universities worldwide should unite pooling their talents and resources to provide research and technical innovations that will move us into the new energy paradigm.

The list goes on and on. There is no shortage of solutions, only a shortage of the will to make the necessary changes. Come on people, this isn’t rocket science, are you really going to dump this crisis in your children’s laps? To do nothing is to condemn them to an early demise.

If you’re concerned about the disruption this would do to employment stability, consider that for several decades rapid changing technology has been changing the stasis of the job market replacing people with robots and computerized systems. These days many people are working three jobs and living out of cars. Creating a new clean energy economy can create a better job market.

The billionaire leaders of the free-market system and our government are making it quite clear that nothing is going to change as long as the money keeps rolling in. They are no wiser than the foolish college students who, during their spring break, hung out at crowded beaches and bars despite the social distancing alerts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greta’s parting words in a rally in Stockholm, Sweden said it well, “It shouldn’t be up to us children and teenagers to make people wake up around the world. The ones in charge should be ashamed.”

Greta’s plea to “those in charge” to do something begs the question, do you have as much spine as she does to stand up against capitalist tycoons and demand a stop to carbon emissions? The United Nations has no legal power to enforce anything. It does, however, have a great number of world leaders that can assert their individual power to effect the necessary changes.

Aside from world leaders, there is no one alive that is exempt from putting some skin in the game. Margaret Mead once famously aid, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: in deed, it’s the only thing that ever has. “So, what are “you” going to do?

Published by Rrichard Whiteford

I'm a writer, public speaker, and a climate change adviser and educator. I've written close to a thousand newspaper articles on environmental issues. I wrote a book called Wild Pennsylvania and I wrote a series about endangered species that ran for 3 years in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I attended the COP-15 Climate Summit in Copenhagen in 2009, the COP-15 Climate Summit in Paris in 2015, and the Climate Action Summit in 2019 at the United Nations in New York. In 2007 I took Al Gore's training at the Climate Reality Project. To date, I have given 340 PowerPoint presentations about climate change at universities, government committee hearings, religious institutions, conservation organizations, Earth Day events, environmental organization events and at the United Nations. I've taught climate change at many universities and taught classes on how to teach climate change.

3 thoughts on “Earth Day 2020 Message

  1. Thanks for this important message, including Greta Thunberg’s powerful voice and basic facts we need to remember. You made me want to learn more about the Green New Deal. As you said, “There is no shortage of solutions, only a shortage of the will to make the necessary changes.”


  2. Richard very good speech. Bravo. I liked the substance and the tone. I would like to chat some time about strategy. Don Brown Widener University Commonwealth Law School.


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