Quantcast

On Earth Day 150 World Leaders to Sign Paris Climate Agreement

Climate

By Kathleen Rogers

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans hit the streets to protest the environmental effects of more than 100 years of uncontrolled fossil-fueled industrial development. It was the first Earth Day.

What was intended to be a college campus teach-in soon spread to every community and city across the United States. It was and remains the single largest secular event in history. The sheer size of the protest—along with increasing visual evidence of dire health threats associated with air and toxic pollution—soon forced Congress to pass some of the world's toughest environmental laws, most of which include community right-to-know provisions and allow citizens to sue their government if it fails to enforce the law.

Citizens' rights have been enshrined in every major environmental law from that point on. These laws spawned others around the world—many more stringent than those in the U.S.—and most recognize the role of citizens in the enforcement of environmental laws.

Nearly 50 years later, Earth Day remains a day of reckoning, and now more than 1 billion people take action each year in almost every country on Earth. Some protest, many clean up their communities and plant trees, and millions more have their first exposure to environmentalism through educational programs at schools and universities. Governments large and small make commitments and meet with their constituents, while corporations make pledges to be more sustainable and responsible for the pollution they create.

It is fitting then that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chose Earth Day, April 22, for world leaders to sign the historic Paris climate agreement at UN headquarters in New York. At least 150 world leaders are expected to sign, making it the largest single signing of an international agreement in world history (another Earth Day first). And it's happening not a moment too soon. On every front, global warming is becoming more immediate, more threatening and more irreversible, while scientific consensus and data on the health effects of climate change—particularly on the poor—mount.

Critics warn that the agreement's specific emissions targets are too low, that the pace of implementation is too slow, and it fails failed to specify penalties for non-compliance. That's where we the people come in.

Included in the climate agreement are provisions that recognize the critical role civil society must play to make it work. It calls on citizens to scale up their efforts and support actions to reduce emissions. It signals the need for all of us to be actively engaged in transforming our world from one dominated by fossil fuels to one driven by renewable energy. While these words don't amount to a call for revolution, it's clear both the UN and world leaders recognize that citizen participation in solving global warming has been missing. The success—or failure—of the agreement is on our shoulders.

This isn't a fight in which any of us can remain on the sidelines and hope for the best. Unless we take these matters into our own hands, the agreement alone won't save the world's ecosystems from collapsing, or our biodiversity, which supports all living things on Earth, from disappearing.

Doing our part doesn't mean merely buying green products or inquiring how things are going. It means action. It means a direct challenge to the status quo. It means holding our elected officials accountable and voting out of office national, state and local leaders who won't take action on climate change. It means not passing the buck and hoping others do the hard work.

For many, getting involved means knowing how your retirement accounts and pensions are invested and demanding divestment from fossil fuel stocks. It means demanding that your children be educated for green jobs of the future. It means showing up at town hall or city council meetings and asking about your community's survivability in a climate crisis. It means saying “No" to every new coal or fracking project, and retooling those communities for safer green powered jobs.

And there are no doubt countless other ways to act. Undoubtable, the climate agreement makes it clear that governments don't have the power to solve climate change alone. We all must do something more than we currently are. Earth Day 2016 is not about crossing the finish line. When the agreement is signed, the hard work begins anew.

Kathleen Rogers is president of Earth Day Network.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Bill Nye vs. Sarah Palin on Climate Change: Who Do You Believe?

Scientists Start to Look at Ground Beneath Their Feet for Solution to Climate Change

March 2016 Was Hottest on Record by Greatest Margin Yet Seen for Any Month

Al Gore and Neil deGrasse Tyson Talk the Future of Our Planet

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

"Globally, we're starting to see examples of retailers moving away from plastics and throwaway packaging, but not at the urgency and scale needed to address this crisis." Greenpeace

By Jake Johnson

A Greenpeace report released Tuesday uses a hypothetical "Smart Supermarket" that has done away with environmentally damaging single-use plastics to outline a possible future in which the world's oceans and communities are free of bags, bottles, packaging and other harmful plastic pollutants.

Read More Show Less
Children are forced to wear masks due to the toxic smoke from peat land fires in Indonesia. Aulia Erlangga / CIFOR

By Irene Banos Ruiz

Pediatricians in New Delhi, India, say children's lungs are no longer pink, but black.

Our warming planet is already impacting the health of the world's children and will shape the future of an entire generation if we fail to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F), the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report on health and climate change shows.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Private homes surround a 20 inch gas liquids pipeline which is part of the Mariner East II project on Oct. 5, 2017 in Marchwood, Penn. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

The FBI is looking into how the state of Pennsylvania granted permits for a controversial natural gas pipeline as part of a corruption investigation, the AP reports.

Read More Show Less
Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles. Carolina Wild Ones / Facebook

Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
The Dakota Access pipeline being built in Iowa. Carl Wycoff / CC BY 2.0

The fight between the Standing Rock Sioux and the owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline is back on, as the tribe opposes a pipeline expansion that it argues would increase the risk of an oil spill.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Scanning electron micrograph of Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague, on proventricular spines of a Xenopsylla cheopis flea. NIAID / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A middle-aged married couple in China was diagnosed with pneumonic plague, a highly infectious disease similar to bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe in the middle ages, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Milk made from almonds, oats and coconut are among the healthiest alternatives to cow's milk. triocean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dairy aisles have exploded with milk and milk alternative options over the past few years, and choosing the healthiest milk isn't just about the fat content.

Whether you're looking beyond cow's milk for health reasons or dietary preferences or simply want to experiment with different options, you may wonder which type of milk is healthiest for you.

Read More Show Less
Greta Thunberg stands aboard the catamaran La Vagabonde as she sets sail to Europe in Hampton, Virginia, on Nov. 13. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist whose weekly school strikes have spurred global demonstrations, has cut short her tour of the Americas and set sail for Europe to attend COP25 in Madrid next month, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less