Earth Day continues to stand out as an increasingly relevant, though sad, observance as human activity causes more damage to the planet and the environment. But there are some notable efforts to make the world a better, healthier place to live.
Friday marks the 46th anniversary of Earth Day, which began in 1970 in response to a 1969 massive oil spill of 3 million gallons in waters near Santa Barbara, Calif. That was 20 years before the March 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
And before the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — the worst in U.S. history. Before it was capped on July 15, 2010, an estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf.
Such disasters make the Sierra Club’s wish for fossil fuels to remain in the ground sound better every day. Human consumption of fossil fuels generates greenhouse gases, trapping heat on the planet.
It results in the Earth’s continual warming. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Tuesday that March’s average global temperature of 54.9 degrees was the hottest March on record. It also marked an 11-month straight record — going back to May 2015 — of the planet growing hotter. Part of it is because of El Niño. But human consumption of fossil fuels for industry, transportation and indoor comfort also played a role.
The United Nations summit on climate change in Paris generated an agreement among nations to reduce fossil fuel consumption and the warming of the planet. But critics have said the action may have come too late and certainly failed to go far enough to save the Earth from reaching a tipping point of becoming too warm.
Climate change already has caused polar ice to melt at an alarming rate, sea levels to rise threatening coastal areas, drought to spread with wildfires and storms to be more violent causing a lot more damage. An example is the heavy rainfall in Houston with a lot of flooding.
Climate scientists who track the Earth’s climbing temperature and resulting damage are right to worry that the ongoing reports tend to desensitize people about the problem and society’s ability to do anything about it. That gives climate change deniers a growing audience in which they pooh-poohing any human involvement with global warming.
To keep people’s attention focused on the facts, the Census Bureau shares some data for Earth Day. A lot of progress has been made on shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
By 2012, revenue in electric power generation industries was $9.7 billion from hydro, wind, geothermal, biomass, solar and other renewable energy sources. That was up 46.5 percent from $6.6 billion in 2007. With the price of renewables coming down and the interest going up, that billions of dollars being produced by green energy undoubtedly is a lot higher today.
In 2012 there were 716 wind, geothermal, biomass, solar and other generation businesses, more than double the 312 that existed in 2007. Again, the number undoubtedly is higher today.
More than 5,300 people in 2012 worked in the wind electronic power generation establishments — the most in green energy.
Wind electricity generating industry revenue was $5.1 billion in 2012. Hydroelectric power was second at $2.5 billion; followed by geothermal electricity, of just under $1 billion in revenue; biomass, $721.5 million in revenue; and solar, $427.6 million.
In the going backward category, there were 2.5 million housing units nationwide in 2014 that were primarily headed by wood. In comparison, 59,558 housing units that year were heated with solar energy, or less than 1 percent of all homes. That’s a lot higher now.
Utility gas provided heat for 56.8 million housing units in the U.S. in 2014, or about 48.8 percent of all homes. Of newly built homes, 91 percent in 2014 had air conditioning.
On transportation, Americans still have costly commutes to work. People age 16 and up spent on average 26 minutes in 2014 getting to work. That was up from 25.7 minutes in 2012.
Not everyone drives to work. In 2014, 904,463 people rode bicycles to work. But that’s only about 0.6 percent of American workers. There is a lot of room for improvement.
More people walked to work — 4 million in fact — in 2014. That’s about 2.7 percent of American workers.
Energy consumption in the U.S. manufacturing sector is trending down. The census reports it was 18,817 trillion Btus in 2010, down 17 percent from 22,576 trillion Btus in 2002.
People’s concern for the planet also has caused coal production to take a big hit. Coal consumption in the U.S. manufacturing sector was down 32 percent from 2002 to 2010, falling from 1,956 trillion Btus in 2002 to 1,328 trillion Btus consumed in 2010.
Earth Day isn’t all about energy. Recyclables play a role in saving the planet, too. In 2012 sales of recyclable material amounted to $95.8 billion, up 19.6 percent from $80.1 billion in 2007. For recyclable paper and paperboard, 2012 sales were $9.8 billion; recyclable plastics, $2.3 billion; and recyclable glass, $583.5 million.
In 2014, the estimated revenue for hazardous waste management collection services was $1.9 billion. That year the estimated revenue for hazardous waste treatment and disposal was $5.5 billion.
And in transportation, the estimated revenue for local fixed-route passenger transportation by road and transit rail in 2014 was $14.3 billion. Kansas City will hop aboard that train in May when the downtown streetcar starts transporting people from the River Market to Crown Center.
It’s all about saving the planet and recognizing America’s efforts on Earth Day.