On Earth Day, a call to arms on climate

Images of our planet from space helped the environmental movement gain popular support around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970.
Images of our planet from space helped the environmental movement gain popular support around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970. NASA Goddard

It is fitting on Earth Day to take stock of where we stand regarding climate change. We are entering our fourth year of drought, affecting every aspect of life in California. A 25 percent mandatory urban water cutback has been imposed, while farmers are fallowing fields and pumping groundwater at unsustainable levels. A man with a pole walks to a spot in the Sierra Nevada to measure the snowpack, but there is none.

Around the globe, temperatures are rising, glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, the oceans are becoming warmer and more acidic, and there are more frequent and intense floods and other extreme weather events. More species are becoming extinct.

The scientific community has reached a consensus that to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change, we must keep the rise in mean global surface temperature to no more than 3.6 degrees above pre-industrial levels. To meet this goal, we must continually reduce greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide, from 32 billion tons in 2014 to close to zero by 2050.

Last year was the first when we had global economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions still did not increase. This could be a very significant achievement. If we truly capped emissions in 2014, this would require approximately a 5 percent annual reduction through 2050 – far higher than any country has proposed.

That is why we are past the point where half measures will suffice. We have to wage a global war on climate change, recognizing it as the most significant challenge and threat we all face.

But too many politicians, religious figures and corporate leaders reject climate science. That is why many scientists are in a state of despair.

There are also some positive developments, however. Last September, 300,000 people rallied in New York for finding solutions to climate change. Last October, the European Union announced new goals for greenhouse gas reductions; last November, the U.S. and China reached historic agreements to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Building on the U.S.-China pact, a new international framework is to be finalized this December in Paris.

So on this Earth Day, we see definite progress in the fight against climate change. It is now time to adopt a wartime mentality to ensure ultimate victory for ourselves and generations to come.

Harold Ferber lives in Elk Grove and is a founding member of the Sacramento chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.