The United States is proud to join countries around the world in celebrating the 44th annual Earth Day.
I still remember participating in the very first Earth Day back in 1970. It helped to unleash a wave of grassroots activism that ultimately led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and landmark laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. This Earth Day we need to consider new ways to unleash a new wave of activism to tackle today’s long list of environmental challenges from the existential threat of climate change to the cause of the oceans.
Climate change’s impacts aren’t far off in the future – they are here and now. We're increasingly seeing events like those that scientists have long predicted. Extreme droughts are hammering crop production, forcing farmers out of business and driving up grocery bills. More intense floods and storm surges are causing billions in property damage. The coasts are swiftly eroding, rendering home after home uninhabitable or uninsurable. We still have a short window of time to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, but the science tells us that window is closing.
This year’s Earth Day focus is cities, and the fact is, how the world’s cities respond to our climate change challenge will make a huge difference. Roughly 5.2 billion people are projected to live in the world’s urban communities by 2050. Building codes and electricity requirements, public transportation systems, and land management will help determine whether we meet this global challenge. The Department of State is committed to doing our part to help bring about greener cities around the world. We are working to deploy renewable energy technologies; build recycling infrastructure; safeguard wildlife, forests and wetlands; and help communities better protect their water resources.
There is another issue that demands our attention this Earth Day: the state of our oceans. We can’t care for the Earth without protecting the ocean that covers nearly three-quarters of it. With global overfishing, record pollution, and ocean acidification, our oceans are in trouble. That’s why I am convening an international ocean conference at the State Department in June to leverage the shared efforts of governments, the private sector, civil society leaders, and global stakeholders.
Earth Day’s history is proof that the steadfast determination of millions is powerful enough to change the course of history. We have our own history to write together, cleaning up global communities and protecting natural resources for generations to come.