Robert Repetto: Our survival depends on action

  • Garbage floats in the sea, plastic, styrofoam, bottles, bags. Environmental pollution. Pridannikov

Published: 9/23/2020 10:49:17 AM

The thickness of the earth’s atmosphere is less than one-tenth of one percent the diameter of the earth. It’s 20 times less thick than the skin of an apple relative to the thickness of the apple itself. On this incredibly thin band of air around the earth depends every human life and the entire living world.

Yet, for 250 years we’ve been pouring all the pollution from our expanding industrial economy into this precious film that protects us from oblivion, in the naïve belief that the sky is limitless. It can’t go on.

The atmosphere can’t absorb all the wastes we pump into it without lethal consequences. Every year millions of people die from air pollution. Greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from burning fossil fuels, is causing climate change that’s creating ever-worsening disasters. If we don’t stop, the places where a billion people live will be uninhabitable by this century’s end and coastal metropolises around the world will be under water. By then, climate change could be unstoppable.

Fortunately, change is possible. Technological advances have brought limitless renewable energy within reach at costs no higher than the costs of polluting fossil energy. Within this half century, we can finish the transition to clean energy, just as within similar spans of time our forbears made vast transitions from water to steam power and then from steam to electric power.

European countries have shown how readily progress can be made. They have pioneered offshore wind farms that will be very cost-effective on our Atlantic coast. Their cities are bicycle-friendly. Travel between them is easy on high-speed trains. Their buildings are more energy-efficient.

Here in the Northeast, there’s much more we can do. First, we should adopt the regional Transportation Climate Initiative. A “cap-and-invest” program for transportation fuels, which are responsible for a third of carbon emissions, would strongly encourage people to buy fuel-efficient vehicles and use more climate-friendly travel options. Revenues from the program could fund green infrastructure, including more bike lanes, expanded public transportation and better rail service.

Taking action on opportunities like these is urgent — our survival may depend on it.

robert repetto

Amherst


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