We all deserve to breathe clean air and drink clean water. There is nothing partisan about it. It was because of concerns about clean air and clean water that the Earth Day tradition began. Thousands of students and other groups fought against oil spills, pollution from factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, species extinction and loss of wilderness. The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970. Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban and rural dwellers, farmers, business and labor leaders came together demanding better environment.
By the end of 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency was created and the U.S. Congress passed environmental laws including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Clean Air Act and in 1972 it passed the Clean Water Act. These laws have saved lives, improved air quality and health.
For two decades, concerns about increased use of coal, oil and gas were raised by not only NASA’s climate scientists but by ExxonMobil’s own scientists. Increased use of coal, oil and gas added pollutants including carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air. In 1988, Dr. Hansen testified in the U.S. Congress expressing concerns of global warming. By 1990, Earth Day was globally celebrated by nations for global action. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, human activities have produced 40 percent more atmospheric concentration of CO2, from 280 ppm to 414.7 ppm in 2021. Carbon dioxide emissions reached record high in 2022.
Seventeen out of eighteen warmest years have occurred since 2001 according to NASA.
As concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions increase in the atmosphere, extreme weather events have intensified, our climate has destabilized and pollutants and pollen counts have gone up. Austin is known for problems of pollen allergies throughout the year. Pollen allergies have become much worse with increase in CO2, warmer temperatures and tail pipe emissions resulting from traffic congestion. Austin had 25 “Ozone Action Days” in 2022 which tops the combined total for past eight years. Short term measures like reduction in use of gasoline powered vehicles, equipment and manufacturing and long term measures like transitioning to cleaner energy sources are needed to reduce warming and ground level ozone. People suffering from pollen allergies feel the effects of ground level ozone along with increase in pollens from ragweed, grass, mold, trees and other pollutants. Sneezing, headaches, post nasal drainage and general sense of tiredness are the symptoms that I suffer from, even after taking appropriate measures.
Texas is a leader in oil and gas production. A non-profit group, Carbon Mapper has detected methane leaks near drilling sites in Texas. Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of CO2 for 20 years after its release. Methane emissions cause 25% of global warming today. Lack of enforcement of permitting rules on oil and gas operations continue to add to global warming by releasing methane into our environment.
Texas faces many water issues including groundwater pollution, aging infrastructure, drought and flooding. Abandoned oil and gas wells are polluting Texas farms, ranches, and underground water. Texas Railroad Commission (TRCC) which oversees orphan wells in Texas, has reported 140,000 inactive wells. Until these wells are plugged, water contamination is likely to get worse affecting health of humans and cattle.
Clean air and clean water are critical and so are reductions in polluting emissions. There are policy proposals introduced in the U.S. Congress to transition towards clean energy sources but we need a political will and bipartisan approach to drive this transition for improved quality of life for all.
Project Manager, City of Austin and Member, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Austin
April 20, 2023