Remembering Earth Day and The Paris Agreement

Remembering Earth Day

Forty-six years ago, over 20 million people participated in the nation’s first Earth Day. Pioneered by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day was one of the first of what became to be known as environmental teach-ins. Senator Nelson sought to confront the growing list of environmental issues facing the nation and the world by elevating the level of public interest and discourse on what was regarded as threats to our air, land, water, lakes, rivers and oceans.

The 1970’s witnessed the enactment of an array of federal and state legislation aimed at dealing with a growing list of environmental impairments. The new comprehensive regulatory architecture imposed limitations on emissions to air and discharges to water, controlled the management and disposition of wastes, and reduced the release of hazardous substances into the environment.

These government mandates were met with alarm by some, who argued among other things, that the new regulations were both unnecessary and costly, and that the imposition of these new regulatory schemes would make us less competitive and damage the economy. Sound familiar?

Others argued that we had to act, that we could no longer afford to ignore the costs of inaction. Lake Erie had been declared dead; the Cuyahoga River caught fire several times; the Love Canal oozed toxins, and air quality in certain areas was similar to that experienced in China and India today.

We ultimately came to a public consensus that prosperity and environmental quality were not mutually exclusive goals, but complementary and necessary attributes of a successful society. Now – the next step.

The Paris Agreement – a new level of international cooperation.

As we face the greatest environmental and economic challenge in human history, we are witnessing the beginning of an extraordinary global consensus centered on decarbonizing the global energy system. The Paris Climate Agreement is unprecedented in both its support and its ambition. Never before in the history of the United Nation have so many countries simultaneously executed an agreement of any kind on any subject. In a single day, 175 countries signed the Paris accord, pledging to fundamentally restructure their economies to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to take specifically tailored actions – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – to address climate change. In both symbolism and substance, the Earth Day signing of the Paris Agreement is unparalleled and will mark history as the time when the world collectively took action commensurate with its greatest challenge.

Ratification is the next step. The Paris Climate Agreement will take effect when 55 nations representing 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. 16 nations both signed and ratified the agreement on Friday.
You can track each country’s progress here. The good news is that there are indications that both ratification and actual implementation of climate and energy measures will move forward faster than expected.

More on that soon.


Posted by Stanley “Skip” Pruss

April 25, 2016