Earth Day Response to Climate Change Deal

Pam Linn

At the United Nations (UN) on Earth Day, a record 175 nations signed a landmark deal on climate change known as the Paris Agreement. The agreement will only be enforceable once 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have formally joined.

This process was originally estimated to take until 2020 to complete but is now thought to be on track for later this year. Climate change has moved from a debated subject to a grim reality with the past two years the hottest on record worldwide, growing evidence of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and catastrophic weather events causing billions of dollars in damage.

At the signing event Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “The world is in a race against time. The era of consumption without consequences is over.

“Today you are signing a new covenant with the future. This covenant must amount to more than promises,” he added.

French President Francois Hollande, the first to sign, said he would ask the French parliament to ratify the agreement this summer. He stressed that combating climate change would require governments, companies and people all over the world to work together to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

The countries that haven’t said they would sign the agreement are some of the world’s largest producers of oil, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kazakhstan and Nigeria, according to an Associated Press article published last Saturday, April 23.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry carried his young granddaughter in his arms as a symbol of the future generations the agreement could protect. He said the power of the agreement would be to unleash the private sector to define the new energy of the future and set the global economy on a new path of growth and development that will preserve the environment.

Also representing the U.S. at the signing was Academy Award-winning actor Leonardo Dicaprio, a climate activist and peace messenger to the UN.

“We can congratulate each other today but it will mean absolutely nothing if the world’s leaders gathered here go home and do nothing,” he said. “The world is now watching. You will either be lauded by future generations or vilified by them.”

We worry that the world is taking too long to address what could be the defining issue of our lifetime. But accords of this magnitude are subject to ratification by each individual country according to their own governmental procedures. And we’ve all seen what governmental gridlock can do to processes of less import.

It has been at least two-and-a-half decades since Bill McKibben addressed climate change in his book “The End of Nature” and was unfortunately not taken as seriously as we all hoped. We’re learning now that fossil fuel companies discussed global warming internally while paying millions to get a few folks with scientific credentials to debunk climate theory, particularly the element of human causation. My sense is that we’ll be hearing more about who knew what and when they knew it.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author, biologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson in an interview with Jeffrey Brown on PBS last week described his theory that if we could save half of the earth from development, we could save the other half for wild and so-far undiscovered species. 

The Earth Day signing set a record for international diplomacy. Never have so many countries signed an agreement on the first available day. The countries that didn’t sign will have a year to do so, according to the AP article.

However, countries that have held significant disagreements on other issues have come together to support this one. Among the signers were North Korea and Zimbabwe. Need I say more?

It seems the time has come for less talk and more action. We have improved technology while drastically lowering prices for solar, wind and other renewable energy sources but government regulations and subsidies have lagged behind.

So in honor of Earth Day and the UN signing, let’s put our support behind renewable energy, conservation and all efforts to combat our planet’s warming, whatever it takes.