No. 46 outdid himself on Earth Day 51!

The publication of Rachel Carlson’s book, “Silent Spring,” in 1962 led to the first Earth Day in 1970. Just last month, we celebrated Earth Day number 51. In our household, Earth Day has always had special significance because my first date with my wife was on Earth Day 1990. Beyond that, however, Earth Day has been disappointing—a long string of speeches and big intentions, but little real action.

Until last Thursday, when President Biden took Yorktown100’s and CURE100’s mission nationwide!

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Our 46th president and his administration announced at a 40-country climate summit that the United States would rejoin the Paris Accord and reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions 50 percent by 2030. This milestone has particular significance, because, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is a “must have” on our path to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade. The Biden administration characterized the announcement as both a “moral imperative and an economic imperative.”

The specific announcement was a target of 50 percent to 52 percent GHG reduction by 2030, using 2005 emissions as the baseline.

Without doubt, this goal is an ambitious one and will have sweeping impacts on all aspects of society, especially domains like energy, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and building energy. As explained in my previous blog (cure100.org/2021/03/07/i-beg-to-disagree-mr-gates), low-hanging fruit like renewable electricity, light-duty vehicle electrification, energy efficiency measures, and rapid adoption of heat pumps must be executed rapidly in this decade to meet the goal. More difficult sectors like cement, mining, steel making, air travel, shipping, and upgrading of the building stock will have to wait until the decade of the 2030s for completion and have dependencies on as-yet unknown or unproven innovations.

Reaction has been positive and even giddy.

From Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, “The Paris Agreement is humanity’s life insurance. It is so good to have the U.S. back on our side.” However, not all reactions were positive. For one thing, the announcement is only a plan or a target, it is not codified in legislation. For another, the plan is skimpy on specifics, which will presumably be announced in the coming days and weeks. “This radical plan is a domestic and foreign policy blunder of almost unfathomable proportions,” said Patrick Morrisey, attorney general of West Virginia, a statement that he will likely regret as long as he lives.

Environmental groups have reacted positively as well, including a warm endorsement by former Vice President Al Gore, but not without exceptions. Our Children’s Trust and Extinction Rebellion favor 100 percent GHG reduction by 2030 and 2025, respectively, to keep the probability of environmental disaster as close to zero as possible. There is the ever-present question, of course, of how to get all countries to meet GHG reduction goals at the same cadence. An open topic is what kind of help can and must be provided to developing nations to decarbonize.

In rapid succession, several other countries announced new GHG targets including Japan (46 to 50 percent reduction from 2013 levels), Canada (40 to 45 percent reduction from 2005 levels), Britain and the European Union. Significantly, the U.K. announced the most far-reaching goal of 78 percent GHG reduction by 2035. Not only is Britain’s ambition codified in legislation, but it also appears to be far more prescriptive than other countries.

In Yorktown100 and CURE100, we’ve been very clear about the goal of cutting GHG in half by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2040. If the U.S. can achieve 50 percent reduction by 2030 and the U.K. will reduce 78 percent by 2035, net zero by 2040 seems only a hop, skip, and a jump further!

A lingering question on many minds is, “Will success require a top-down effort or a bottom-up effort?” The answer is a resounding, “Both.” We need federal and state governments to push, fund, subsidize, and enact policy, but we also need every household and every community to do what it can—and the sooner the better. Hence, I am choosing to end this brimming-with-hope article with a recap of Earth Week activities much closer to home.

All the chapters of CURE100 had multiple Earth Week events. Yorktown100 participated in the 32rd annual Battle of Yorktown litter clean-up, cleaning tons of trash from Yorktown’s roadways and public properties. Special mention goes to Ossining100, which hosted more than 70 events! Philipstown100 and Port Washington 100 launched their programs, including the Carbon Tracker. 

Croton100 organized several Earth Week activities, including its EarthDay art contest, with “Nature Is Us” as the theme, and running a campaign to say NO to diesel school buses.

I don’t know about you, but after years and years of being beaten down with bad news on the environmental doorstep, I feel pretty good about this past month. Good news from Washington, good news from Seoul, Tokyo, London, Beijing, and Ottawa. And the feeling that all our efforts on a local level in tiny Yorktown, Croton-on-Hudson, or Ossining, and all over the world are coming together to make a difference! So, let’s kick back, celebrate, let some relief wash over us, even take a day off—and then re-dedicate ourselves to the 19-year decarbonization road ahead with new vigor and hope!

Chandu Visweswariah is the vice president of Communities United to Reduce Emissions 100% (CURE100), an environmental not-for-profit advocating for a net-zero future. Yorktown100 is now a charter chapter of CURE100, a consortium of communities that share a carbon reduction mission. Yorktown100 is a 100-percent volunteer group of neighbors working to reduce our carbon footprint by 5 percent a year through various programs. Contact us if you would like to learn more, or would like to join. We welcome new members! Visit us at yorktown100.cure100.org or check out our Facebook page for upcoming open meetings.

 

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