Sustainability Climate Change

On this 52nd Earth Day, the US reveals it’s lagging behind on critical climate pledges

Earth Day should serve as a source of inspiration for tackling climate change more urgently, climate advocates say.
Farmland is seen with solar panels from Cypress Creek Renewables, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Thurmont, Md. Julio Cortez/ AP

Story at a glance

  • Friday, April 22 marks the 52nd annual Earth Day. 

  • It’s a stark reminder of the reality of climate change, set to cause record droughts and tropical storms this year.

  • Climate experts believe the U.S. needs to do more to curb its greenhouse gas emissions, with the average American able to join in on the efforts. 

On this 52nd Earth Day, climate experts are reminded of just how far behind the U.S. is on its pledge to slash its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, raising serious questions about the ability of the nation to combat climate change. 

Devastating severe weather events continue to occur across the U.S., tied to rising global temperatures, and have served as a reminder of the need for urgent climate action. At the same time, Russia’s war with Ukraine is a reminder of the strong dependency of global economies on fossil fuels — reflected through rising gas prices at the pump. 

Climate advocates say Earth Day should serve as a source of inspiration for tackling the problem more aggressively.  Some strong U.S. legislation has been passed through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, with investments in electric vehicle production and wind and solar powered energy, but experts say it may not be enough. Yet passing further reaching climate policy remains uncertain, as Biden already faces a divided Congress and could lose Democrats’ small majority in the upcoming midterm elections.  

However, experts believe there is still time for corrective action. The U.S. can still make strides toward hitting its emissions goal through corrective policymaking, tapping into innovative technologies and even through average Americans making small but critical lifestyle changes.   

But changes are needed urgently, as forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated nearly 60 percent of the continental U.S. is experiencing minor to exceptional drought conditions. 

That’s in addition to forecasters at AccuWeather predicting another abnormally active hurricane season this year, with somewhere between 16 to 20 tropical storms expected. 


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Taking control of climate change can curb future severe weather events, which is what President Biden intended to do when he pledged that the U.S. would cut its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030. That pledge was prompted in part by the U.S. being a part of the United Nations Paris Agreement, a document that obligates nearly all nations on Earth to undertake ambitious efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius. 

That goal is considered aggressive to climate experts, like Greg Keoleian, director of the center for sustainable systems at the University of Michigan, who believes it’s uncertain whether the U.S. can realistically achieve that. 

“We need to align the technology, the policy, the market and behavior to accelerate the decarbonization to achieve IPCC targets and right now, we’re not fully aligned,” said Keoleian, 

The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of the UN that is the global authority on climate change. 

Keoleian acknowledged that Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is a big step in the right direction, as it takes aim at the transportation sector — the biggest culprit of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 27 percent of the nation’s total emissions. 

The legislation contains $7.5 billion toward building a national network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers to accelerate the adoption of electric cars, reduce tailpipe emissions and improve air quality. 

There’s also more than $6.5 billion earmarked to transition the country’s electric grid to clean energy, including upgrades to power infrastructure that can lead to the installation of thousands of miles of new transmission lines. 

However, Keoleian noted that many of those investments, especially the shift toward EV, will only be successful if the American people create demand for clean energy products and the required infrastructure follows. Affordability also needs to be addressed, as the average price for a new EV was above $56,000 in 2021, according to Kelley Blue Book

So far U.S. emissions aren’t showing positive progress either, with the Rhodium Group publishing an analysis that found greenhouse gas emissions increased 6.2 percent in 2021 relative to 2020 — largely driven by a jump in coal-fired power generation and road transportation. 

Making sure the U.S. achieves its climate pledge is critical, as scientists at the University of Melbourne in Australia found that if all 192 countries who have joined the Paris Agreement were to honor their pledges, “the world will just avoid 2 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century.” 

That doesn’t leave a lot of room for error, as Greg Gershuny, executive director at Aspen Institute, told Changing America, “We’re betting our future on 160 something different countries, all doing exactly what they are promising to do and that’s not a very good bet I would venture to guess.” 

However, experts believe effective climate change policy doesn’t have to only be the government’s responsibility, saying that even the average American can contribute. It can be as simple as choosing to ride a bike instead of driving, to bigger commitments like installing solar panels on homes.  

“It’s not always feasible to ride your bike 30 miles to the nearest store, but for people who can, to get out of their cars and get onto bicycles or to walk, I think that’s a big thing,” said Gershuny. 

It may not seem like much, but Gershuny emphasized even reducing a tenth of a degree matters when it comes to climate change. It can be all the difference for vulnerable communities, something the U.S. has experienced firsthand after severe hurricanes and wildfires caused thousands of people to flee their homes and effectively become climate refugees.  

An important aspect to curbing climate change is staying positive as Gershuny also noted that the world may not be accounting for “good surprises,” like technologies being adopted faster than expected or cheaper than forecasted. 

“I have always been an optimist about this and year after year we’re proved right that we have the solutions, we just have to get the courage to launch them,” said Gershuny. 


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