Earth Day’s anniversary showcases advances and setbacks

Earth Day continues to stand out as an increasingly relevant 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.

Earth Day continues to stand out as an increasingly relevant 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.

April 22 marked the 46th anniversary of Earth Day, which began in 1970 in response to a 1969 massive oil spill near Santa Barbara, Calif. Other notable disasters have followed, including the March 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

These incidents are excellent reminders that 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 last week that March’s average global temperature of 54.9 degrees was the hottest March on record. It also marked the 11th consecutive monthly record of the planet growing warmer.

Yes, part of it is because of El Niño. But the use of fossil fuels for industry, transportation and indoor comfort also played a role.

The 2015 United Nations summit on climate change in Paris generated an agreement among nations to reduce fossil fuel consumption and the warming of the planet.

The action might have come too late, however, and it 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.

Scientists who track the Earth’s rising temperature and resulting damage are right to worry the ongoing reports tend to desensitize people about the problem, sapping society’s will to take action. That gives climate change deniers a growing audience in which they pooh-pooh any human involvement with global warming.

Positive events are occurring, too. According to the U.S. Census Bureau:

• 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. The price of renewables keeps going down, so that figure is undoubtedly is higher today. Wind electricity generating industry revenue was $5.1 billion, followed by hydroelectric power at $2.5 billion.

• Coal consumption in the U.S. manufacturing sector was down 32 percent from 2002 to 2010.

• 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.

• And in transportation, the estimated revenue for local fixed-route passenger transportation by road and transit rail in 2014 was $14.3 billion.

Earth Day is a great time to recognize efforts to save the planet, while recognizing that plenty of hard work remains ahead of us.

— The Kansas City Star