Earth Day 2012: A Turning Point in the Fight Against Global Warming?

by Roberta Seldon on April 20, 2012

Earth Day, often credited for launching the birth of the modern environmental movement, got its start in 1970 when founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, came up with a way to capitalize on the student anti-war movement and the emerging consciousness following the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif.

It was then that Nelson announced his idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media. Meanwhile, Nelson persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as co-chair and tapped Denis Hayes, head of the federal government’s Solar Energy Research Institute during the Carter administration, as national coordinator. Hayes, in turn, built a national staff of 85 to promote events that drew 20 million Americans to massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thus, on April 22, 1970, Earth Day was born.

According to Earth Day Network,the organization responsible for the annual Earth Day events held on the National Mall, “Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders.”

The first Earth Day also led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Since then, the annual event has continued to achieve much success. For example,Earth Day 1990 went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and paving the way for 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Earth Day 2010, although it faced many challenges – i.e. climate change deniers, oil lobbyists, reticent politicians, an uncaring public, and a divided environmental community – was still successful. That year marked the launch of an international, 1-million tree planting initiative with Avatar director James Cameron. Earth Day 2010 also amassed 40 million environmental service actions toward its 2012 goal of A Billion Acts of Green® — a website that allows visitors to register an Act of Green, for example, riding a bike instead of driving or washing laundry in cold water.

But perhaps this year presents a unique opportunity for both environmentalists and the Obama administration, known for its strong stance in the fight against climate change. According to a public opinion poll released earlier this year, 62 percent of Americans agreed that “that there is solid evidence that average temperatures on earth have been getting warmer over the past four decades” – this following a period of declining levels of belief in global warming.

This is “the highest level recorded since the fall of 2009, when 65 percent of Americans reported that there was solid evidence of climate change,” the poll said.

Meanwhile, a public opinion poll conducted in March and released on Wednesday revealed that “large majorities [of Americans] believe that global warming made a number of recent extreme weather events worse.”

“Most people in the country are looking at everything that’s happened; it just seems to be one disaster after another after another,” Anthony A. Leiserowitz of Yale University, one of the researchers who commissioned the new poll, told The New York Times in an interview. “People are starting to connect the dots.”

So what does this mean for Earth Day 2012 and the fight against global warming in general? Now that more Americans believe in global warming, it’s possible that they could begin putting pressure on Republicans who have insisted on blocking efforts by the Obama administration to combat climate change – and that could lead to the passage of some much-needed legislation. As we’ve seen in recent times, that technique has worked quite well — from public pressure on big banks to cut unreasonable fees to pressure by President Obama on Congressional Republicans to extend unemployment benefits.

Whether it will work in this instance remains to be seen. But for now we’ll just have to wait and see what will be the outcome of Sunday’s events.

What do you think? Share your thoughts below.

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