Opinion: We Can’t Rely on the ‘Important People’ to Cut Carbon Pollution
Happy Earth Day! April 22 is the 51st Anniversary of what has become the largest secular civic event in the world. According to the Earth Day Network, about 1 billion people around the world participate in Earth Day events. And it all started in 1970.
Andrea Farber De Zubiria
Back then, most people had never even heard of recycling or the ozone layer. There was little awareness about things like toxins being dumped into rivers, factory pollution, or pesticide dangers. Even if problems were identified, there was often not much legal recourse.
Personally, I was 6 in 1970, thinking about things like snacks and swings and Bugs Bunny cartoons. But Woodsy the Owl was starting to show up on TV between cartoons, teaching me and my friends to Give a Hoot and Don’t Pollute. Americans were waking up to the need to protect our air and water and endangered species.
The First ‘Earth Day’
The Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 with its shocking TV coverage of blackened beaches and thousands of dead birds,fish, seals and dolphins gave birth to the modern environmental movement. The Union Oil company had been given a waiver on federal minimum requirements for the protective casing around a drilling hole. According to the LA Times: “the resulting explosion was so powerful it cracked the sea floor in five places and crude oil spewed out of the rupture at 1,000 gallons an hour for a month.”
Earth Day was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. He wanted to activate students and others concerned about the natural resources on which our lives depend. On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day rallies and teach-ins took place in cities and on college campuses across the country, including Fresno State. Celebrities and politicians got involved; it was such a big deal that Congress went into recess so its members could address constituents at events.
After that the Environmental Protection Agency was established and federal legislation was passed like the Clean Air Act, The Water Quality Improvement Act, The Endangered Species Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act.
The Modern Environmental Movement
Fast forward to today. We all know there are ongoing challenges when it comes to preserving a livable environment. For example, thanks to the persistence of many ordinary people –scientists and students, parents and politicians– it is now common knowledge that burning coal, oil and gas emits carbon and other gases. And we know that these “greenhouse gases” trap heat around the Earth, increasing average global temperatures. We know this is leading to chaos in our weather systems-resulting in droughts and heat waves, mega storms, sea level rise, wildfires, worsened air quality and more. We know that a rapid transition to “renewable” sources of energy is needed to stop the temperature rise.
In Fresno, volunteers with the non-partisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby are passionate about creating incentives for companies to cut the carbon emissions that are wreaking havoc. Thousands of economists, public health experts and influencers like NASA’s former top scientist Jim Hansen, have endorsed applying a gradually increasing fee to the companies that emit carbon and returning that fee to Americans as a monthly dividend. A strong, economy-wide price on carbon could reduce America’s carbon pollution by as much as 30% in the first 5 years alone, and is the single most powerful tool we have to hit net zero by 2050.
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (HR 2307) was just reintroduced to Congress with a record 28 co-sponsors. This detailed bill includes adjustments across international borders to create a level playing field, a predictable schedule to help businesses plan ahead and exceptions for parts of key industries like agriculture. Unlike cap and trade or regulations, this policy won’t grow more government, be easily manipulated or drown us all in more bureaucracy.
A Call to Action
As an ordinary citizen who was concerned about various issues but avoided “politics” for most of my life, I personally relate to a quote from the late Marshall Saunders. Saunders was a distinguished Rotarian who worked in anti-poverty organizations and founded Citizens’ Climate Lobby. He said: “I used to believe that the important problems would be taken care of by the important people”. Working across the political aisle to inform my community and influence Congress about climate solutions, instead of believing “ the important people” will take care of it, has helped me be more hopeful for a better future for my grandchildren and for all the kids in the Central Valley and beyond.
This Earth Day, I hope you will inform yourself how carbon pricing like The Energy Innovation Act can benefit everyone. We need to lower emissions quickly. In the words of Marshall Saunders, “All of nature, all of God’s creatures, all of life are counting on us.”
For more information, visit www.energyinnovationact.org.
Andrea Farber De Zubiria is a licensed physical therapist and the media team lead for Citizens’ Climate Lobby Fresno. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org