Living With Climate Change: What is Earth Day? Why celebrating it matters to your money and your health
Officially, it’s a single day on the calendar every year — Earth Day, each April 22.
But now, nearly every industry — from fast food chains to grocery stores to cosmetics lines and luxury autos — along with dozens of tree-loving, plastic-banning nonprofits, are part of a week or month’s worth of promotions and education around climate change each April. Academia and other institutions step up, as well, including the Elon Musk-backed XPrize, which will award cash for technology that’s able to grab carbon (essentially, pollution) out of the air.
For the staunchest environmental groups and the growing number of corporate executives and politicians who believe that a warming Earth, rising seas and leveled forests will cost us all in poorer health, dwindling profits and compromised investment portfolios, every day should be Earth Day.
Here, we take a look at why we celebrate Earth Day, and its significance.
How did Earth Day begin?
The first Earth Day was marked in April 1970. At the time, there was no Environmental Protection Agency, and no Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act (which were eventually signed into law by former President Richard Nixon). There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect the environment. So in spring 1970, Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day as a way to force environmentalism onto the national agenda.
“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard,” Nelson once said.
“‘The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.’”
— Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day
Now more than four decades later, President Biden is traveling to the Pacific Northwest this week to push his climate-change agenda — where he’s wrangling with Congress for more incentives for electric vehicles like Tesla’s
home-solar installation and more. But he’s having to make the plea against a backdrop of high inflation, particularly for gasoline.
Holding down consumer and business costs by allowing for pumping more oil and gas
right now poses a challenge for a president who has made climate change a key feature of his leadership. Biden knows the clock is running out, but he must also foster a transition to cleaner energy
that won’t send the economy into shock.
Why should we care about climate change?
There are approximately 140 million households in the U.S., according to Census data, each spewing an average 48 metric tons of Earth-warming carbon dioxide annually. The bulk of our emissions are CO2 or methane, a more-potent but shorter-lasting greenhouse gas emitted from natural gas, livestock burps and other sources. The natural gas
industry knows it has to curb methane, and has taken some steps on its own.
Burning fossil fuels for heat, power and transportation is the largest contributor to global warming. In 2019, fossil fuels were the source of about 74% of total U.S. human-caused GHG emissions, the Energy Information Agency says. The warmer Earth gets, the more its oceans will rise, eroding coastlines. More episodes of drought and deadly heat, already factors for the western U.S., will be likely. Climate change is also linked to adding to the severity of natural disasters — and the 10 harshest events rang up a bill of $170 billion in insured losses last year.
Warnings about the effects of climate change come from the highest levels. The latest report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by at least 43% to prevent 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming at the end of the century. That’s a key degree target set in 2015 at a Paris climate summit, and is seen keeping the world from the worst ravages of warming damage.
How can climate change affect health issues?
Global warming packs the “greatest threat” to public health, argued an unprecedented joint statement issued last year from more than 200 U.S. and international medical journals. It was a release issued even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research has focused on the expanse of conditions that can be rooted in climate change, including respiratory issues, especially for vulnerable older generations, and neurological impacts.
What’s more, most scientists see a link between deforestation, habitat change and pandemics. From Zika to West Nile, Ebola to SARS, Nipah to COVID-19, deforestation has had a hand in many of the world’s worst viral outbreaks as lost habitat brings animals in closer contact with humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.
Is climate change important for investors?
For some people, change is hard, especially forgoing the convenience of gas-powered cars, relatively cheap heating and cooling, and seemingly unlimited food availability, even dropped off at your doorstep. Others consider the answer to climate change the key to the advancement of humanity: another Industrial Revolution for the modern era. And that means investing opportunities.
Larry Fink, who runs the world’s largest investment management firm, BlackRock, has called climate change the investing idea of a generation. The Securities and Exchange Commission is pushing toward requiring listed companies to let investors know all the risks and opportunities around climate change, much the way that earnings are disclosed. That will have an impact on every retirement account and 401(k).
And, as a category, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) stocks, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds only continue to expand. 2021 was a record year for ESG, with an estimated $120 billion poured into sustainable investments, more than double the $51 billion of 2020. The amount invested in ESG has increased 25-fold from 1995 to 2020, although it remains a small slice of overall funds.
What can I do at home for climate change?
No doubt, some of the easiest ways to change habits and slow Earth’s warming start in our own homes. The good news is that technology can do much of the heavy lifting.
Dwellin Inc., for one, will use Earth Day to launch a free sustainable-home mobile app that will help U.S. homeowners track their own carbon footprint, tackle and reduce home maintenance costs, organize service pros and generally, make sure a home is running as energy-efficient as possible.
“EV manufacturers, governments and businesses are all working toward net-zero carbon emissions to slow the global climate crisis,” said Santhana Krishnan, CEO of Dwellin Inc. “It’s time for homes to do their part.”
Electric heat pumps (there are gas heat pumps, too) instead of furnaces are increasingly talked up as a home solution to cut fossil-fuel use. But their impact on the climate has as much to do with whether the nation’s electricity grid can shift to wind, solar, nuclear, hydrogen and other “cleaner” energy sources, a change that can’t happen overnight.
Last year, New York City made a big move toward phasing out gas stoves and range tops that so many of the city’s renowned chefs and home cooks say they rely on to control the temperature of their dishes. The move may kick off a nationwide change. At least one survey found that right-leaning voters are increasingly getting behind climate-change policies, but the conversion of gas to electric in the kitchen is a particularly hard change for those polled.
How do you shop greener?
A quick online search of Earth Day deals pulls up hundreds of potential tie-ins that might net you savings or open your eyes to all the ways our consuming habits can be altered.
For instance, Amazon.com
— which takes plenty of heat for the carbon footprint of its fast delivery, but has also embraced an aggressive pledge to offset that impact — highlights “Earth-friendly” products on its site. This week, eco beauty brands such as Tom’s and Burt’s Bees are up to 45% off through April 27.
Grocery chain Albertsons Cos. ACI released its “Recipe for Change” ESG framework, which includes a pledge to send zero food waste to landfills by 2030. It’s just one of many companies who realize ESG can sell.
Sites like Declutter, meanwhile, remind us that gently used personal technology can save our wallets and Earth. And Rent the Runway, whose rent-don’t-buy designer apparel formula is already a move against filling landfills with discarded clothes, is offering as much as 90% off its clearance items this Earth Day. This week, Nike
also introduced a tougher shoe box that can be shipped directly for online orders, eliminating the need for a second packing box.
Earth Day gets very personal, too. Who Gives a Crap offers subscriptions to Earth-friendly toilet paper that easily biodegrades, is delivered carbon-free and whose proceeds help those in the world without the luxury of flushable plumbing. New signees can get 20% off on Earth Day. Another company, Tushy, allows you to retrofit a bidet on your traditional toilet, which means scrapping the need to use toilet paper forever.
And rather than derailing consumers’ interest in sustainability, the pandemic appears to have intensified shoppers’ focus on environmentally friendly practices and products, the National Retail Federation is telling its members. A recent study released by NRF and IBM found that nearly two-thirds (62%) of consumers globally say they are willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce their environmental impact, up from 57% prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.