President Joe Biden’s ambitious proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 50 percent (from their 2005 levels) by 2030 marks a dramatic moment in the environmental movement.
Those of us old enough to remember the first Earth Day — 51 years ago this past week — know how difficult it can be to induce American consumers and businesses to adopt environmentally-friendly habits.
The first Earth Day was inspired by the images a few months before of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River catching fire when the chemical pollutants which industries poured into the river (which in turn streamed into Lake Erie) were ignited by a spark from the shore.
The shocking river fire and the Earth Day movement in turn led to the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the full support of then-President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican.
The EPA soon initiated policies that began to improve America’s air and waterways, most notably with the elimination of lead in gasoline.
However, despite the tangible accomplishments of the EPA over the past 50 years, our air and water — the essentials of life for all living things — have remained as harmful to our health as ever.
A recent study by the American Lung Association concluded that almost 50 percent of all Americans still breathe polluted air.
The 1967 movie, The Graduate, predicted the rise of plastics (“Benjamin…I have one word for you: ‘Plastics.’ There is a great future in plastics.”) in everyday life. But what the movie did not anticipate was that within a few decades, micro-plastics not only would contaminate the oceans around the world, but also would be found in every major organ in our bodies.
And of course, there is the matter of global warming, which soon is set to reach a point that will make life as we know it unsustainable in many parts of the world, including our own, where rising sea levels will inundate the Massachusetts coastline.
However, what is encouraging about President Biden’s plans is that for the first time, major U.S. companies are supportive of policies that are good for the environment. Although we would like to think that they are doing so for the right reasons, the reality is that these companies realize that climate change will have a catastrophic effect on their business interests.
The U.S. military has warned for the past decade that climate change poses a major threat to our national security and now private industry finally has jumped on the bandwagon. According to an article in the New York Times last week, “Rising temperatures are likely to reduce global wealth significantly by 2050, as crop yields fall, disease spreads, and rising seas consume coastal cities…The effects of climate change can be expected to shave 11 percent to 14 percent off global economic output by 2050 compared with growth levels without climate change, according to a report from Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest providers of insurance to other insurance companies.”
So we applaud President Joe Biden’s dramatic pro-environment policies, which incorporate many aspects of the Green New Deal put forward by our U.S. Senators, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, in tandem with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
And we are heartened that American business is fully on-board with the president’s proposals.
Hopefully, the shift in our national policy will not be a case of too little, too late.
On the other hand, for those of us who celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970, we have to say, “Better late than never.”