Save the Earth, save the nation

Environmental legislation will be announced with the passage of Earth Day.

Jennifer Bissell

Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, an effort to improve public health and the environment worldwide. Since the inception of this day, the quality of air, water and land has significantly improved, but a lot of work still remains. In fact, with the passage of time, the environmentâÄôs status has become even more unnerving. The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan think tank, cites a few problems we face at large: greenhouse gases altering weather patterns, the hottest decade on record, a melting Glacier National Park and rising sea levels that have submerged entire islands in the Indian Ocean. Since President Barack ObamaâÄôs inauguration, there has been a sigh of relief as efforts in protecting the environment have been made. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and now Sens. John Kerry, DFL-Mass.; Lindsay Graham, R-S.C.; and Joe Lieberman, Ind-Conn.; are expected to introduce their own version of the bill Monday called the American Power Act. While perhaps not perfect, these acts are a step in the right direction. Most notably, the Senate bill is slated to include an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a 50 percent decrease in foreign oil dependence, a price tag on carbon emissions and costumer rebates to ease spiking energy costs. As with anything else, there has been heated debate over the bills. Lawmakers such as Rep. Joe Barton, R-TX, deny scientific data outright, saying carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and isnâÄôt a problem. The United Nations University, however, takes the issue more seriously as a matter of life or death for thousands. With such discrepancies in urgency, it can be difficult to move forward, but it is imperative that we do. Creating a more beautiful world may not be the most pressing of issues today when faced with a crumbling economy, but protecting our planet could be the soundest investment the nation could make in terms of economics. First, it would create new jobs. Of course some positions focused on the use of fossil fuels would be eliminated, but the Center for American Progress estimates a net gain of 1.7 million domestic jobs. They also predict this would reduce the unemployment rate by a full percentage point, which could be incredibly valuable as unemployment rates remain high and stagnant. Additionally, studies have shown that the bill could save Americans money. A preliminary analysis of the House bill showed that the average household could save approximately $750 by 2020 and $3,900 by 2030, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The National Resources Defense Council estimates that an investment in clean energy jobs produces seven times as many positions as an investment in fossil fuels. Of the 1.7 million jobs expected to arise from clean energy, 870,000 would be accessible to workers with a high school degree or less, NRDC predicts. This would lift many low-income families out of poverty and offer new opportunities for promotion and increased pay. Secondly, the bill could mean an investment in both economic and national security. As the world switches to low-carbon technology, the United States could fall behind its competitors such as Germany and China which have made significant clean energy investments. Obama, in his State of the Union Address, stressed this point: âÄúThe nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.âÄù If we increase our competitiveness, we can secure a position as a world leader and an even playing field with our trading partners. Decreasing our dependence on foreign oil is an advantageous position. Instead of being subject to volatile oil prices that have nowhere to go but up, we could be paying ourselves. Peter Dorman, an economics and environmental policy professor at Evergreen State University, says that because emitters will eventually need to buy permits from the U.S. government, the rising costs of oil could be returned to the back pocket of Americans. At that point, itâÄôs only a matter of how quickly the money is returned, Dorman said. Sometimes it can be easy to doubt our impact on environmental issues, but itâÄôs important to remember that we can make a difference. Take the depletion of the ozone, for instance. Roughly 30 years ago, scientists discovered two growing holes in the ozone layer, which led to the international ban of chlorofluorocarbons. Then in 2003, scientists reported that the ban had worked and the rate of depletion was slowing. We had stopped the growing problem, and the ozone has begun to recover. ItâÄôs time to reduce our carbon footprint, increase our energy efficiency and truly put the United States back into a position of global leadership. We really only have so much time to slow and reverse the problems we have created like we have done with the ozone. With the leadership of Congress, the Obama administration and environmental activists, the Earth and our way of life can be preserved for years to come. ItâÄôs a smart choice and an obvious one. If we want to maintain our way of life, we must step forward. Jennifer Bissell welcomes comments at [email protected]