Commemorating Earth Day
On April 22, 1970, 20 million people across American observed the world's first Earth Day. On that day, the nation was faced with rampant and highly visible forms of pollution -- valleys filled with drums of hazardous chemicals, thick clouds of smog hung over our cities, Ohio's Cuyahoga River caught fire, and towns were constructed on toxic waste sites. Although much has changed since 1970, the Earth is far from protected. In the last 100 years, the planet has warmed by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Global carbon dioxide levels are at their highest levels in 650,000 years, possibly 20 million years. As polar ice sheets recede,"sea levels could rise by up to one-and-a-half meters by the end of this century." As Americans from coast to coast commemorate Earth Day with clean-ups, summits, parties and concerts, today is a reminder, in the words of Vice President Al Gore, that the next generation will either ask, "What were they thinking?" or "How did they find the courage to rise and solve a crisis so many said was impossible to solve?" "That choice is ours and we must make it now."
GREEN JOBS: At a time when the economy is at the forefront of Americans' minds, the appeal of "green-collar" jobs is reaching beyond the traditional environmental crowd. "The green revolution isn't just creating new and different jobs," said David Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance, a joint venture between two unlikely bedfellows, the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers. "It's revitalizing and creating new investment in a lot of the jobs we already have." Bracken Hendricks, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, explains, "If we are smart about it, building a green economy will mean new economic development, greater prosperity, and more opportunity for those who need good jobs most." While much of the hype surrounding green jobs has focused on entrepreneurs, most of the jobs are being created in less glamorous sectors: weatherizing homes and offices, installing solar panels, and retrofitting factories with energy-efficient technologies. "This is not an eco-elite, eco-chic movement for people who can afford to buy hybrid cars and shop at Whole Foods," says Van Jones, founder of Green for All, a California-based organization that promotes green job training for low income people. "The green economy to come is going to be a broad-shouldered, mass movement of American labor." Although the development of new technologies is part of the story, green jobs are also about job security. "Making homes, offices and factories more energy efficient not only saves money, it also represents a huge growth opportunity for the people who build our communities and keep them running," said Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We're talking about architects and engineers. Drywall and lighting contractors. Electricians and carpenters. Everything from construction to computing. And these are jobs that cannot be shipped offshore, and pay lasting dividends to the American economy."
THE ECONOMICS OF CONSERVATION: Sustainable practices offer both environmental and economic benefits. A recent study released by the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that the global warming reductions mandated by pending global warming legislation, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, would have "limited impact on overall economic growth, and lead to very small increases in electricity prices." A paper released by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) yields similar results. The EDF finds "a clear consensus among leading economic models that a cap-and-trade policy to cut global warming pollution is consistent with long-term economic growth." Nathaniel Keohane, EDF's director of economic policy and analysis, explains the economic impact of conservation in layman's terms. "Put another way, our gross domestic product is projected to reach $26 trillion in January 2030. If we capped greenhouse gases, according to these studies, the economy would hit that same mark by April." This week Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) plans to introduce a bill giving incentives to lenders and financial institutions to provide lower interest loans and other benefits to consumers who build, buy, or remodel their homes and businesses to improve their energy efficiency. The Sierra Club calculates, "Replacing 10 regular light bulbs in your home with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) would net you savings of $92 in one year."
GREEN SUCCESS: Schools, businesses, communities, cities, and places of worship have taken progressive steps towards cost-effective energy efficiency. The owner of seven franchised fast-food restaurants in Oklahoma has shown that the installation of energy-efficient lighting, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, ceiling fans, and ice makers can reduce energy costs by 40 percent and save $20,000. Small towns in industrial Michigan are making bolder, greener moves. Ypsilanti is testing out LED street lights. Wyandotte is installing solar panels on its schools and preparing to build wind turbines on the Detroit River. Ferndale is working to develop a full fleet of fuel efficient city-owned vehicles. A group of Catholic nuns renovated their 80-year-old Motherhouse by including geothermal heating, a graywater recycling system, green plumbing, and cooling and electrical systems. Even in parts of the United States that have long touted environmentalism, Americans are going above and beyond. According to a new Sightline report, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho have cut back on per capita gasoline consumption by 11 percent from 1999 to 2007, or nearly a gallon a week on average. Portland ranks as the top large American city for the number of commuters biking to work. As explained by Rep. Earl Blumenhauer (D-OR), founding member of the Congressional Bike Caucus, "Bicycling is one of the cleanest, healthiest, most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly modes of transportation that exists today."