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(NEW YORK) — Earth Day provides an annual opportunity for citizens, experts and lawmakers to not only celebrate the planet, but also examine our impact on the changing environment and demand momentum toward a sustainable future.

To take a collective step forward, awareness of the growing climate crisis is crucial, Dr. Virginia Burkett, chief scientist for Climate and Land Use Change at the US Geological Survey, told ABC News ahead of Earth Day.

“The global Earth observation community has characterized a triple planetary crisis of interconnected stressors: climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution,” Burkett said, adding land degradation and deforestation to the list of major concerns.

“Collectively, the interconnected impacts of human activities pose significant challenges to human security and sustainable development,” Burkett warned.

Unnatural disasters

Greenhouse gases, including concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, are now more abundant in Earth’s atmosphere than at any time in the past 800,000 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which notes that burning fossil fuels is changing the climate more than any other human activity whatsoever.

Climate experts warn that larger and more severe weather events due to the effects of climate change have become a reality in America and threaten our future.

“Climate impacts are impacting people’s lives right now,” Costa Samaras, director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation, told ABC News.

“Climate change is making things like extreme heat and extreme storms worse, which can be dangerous for people, especially those in vulnerable communities,” Samaras said.

Man-made increases in greenhouse gas emissions have escalated the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, according to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in 2021.

This includes devastating forest fires and the barrage of atmospheric rivers to extreme heat and deadly deep freezes.

“As we experience these larger fires, wildfire smoke, atmospheric rivers, changes in precipitation patterns and more, we all need to think about ways we can be better prepared and help our families be more resilient,” says Dr. Brian Henning, director of the Gonzaga University Institute for Climate, Water and Environment, told ABC News.

“The longer we wait to take significant action, the bigger and more complicated these problems become,” Henning warned.

Reducing dependence on fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases, promoting zero-carbon transportation and reducing the exploitation and pollution of natural ecosystems are key to combating the effects of climate change, experts say.

“The predominant ways we currently consume, extract, exploit, produce and pollute will worsen the climate crisis,” Professor Erlinde Cornelis, leader of the San Diego State Senate Committee on Sustainability, told ABC News.

“The US has all climate science at its fingertips and is among the best scientists in the world who can influence policy,” said Cornelis. “We know where we need to go, so there’s no excuse for not doing anything.”

Looking at the steps needed to reduce the country’s role in climate change, ABC News spoke with experts Burkett, Samaras, Henning, Cornelis and Dr. Aiguo Dai, a professor at Alabama University’s Department of Atmospheric & Environmental Sciences.

Decarbonize America

With the impacts of climate change knocking on American doors across the country, Henning believes U.S. lawmakers can no longer rely on crisis response measures and must instead address the root causes of the climate crisis.

“We need to decarbonize our heating and our transportation systems to finally bend the curve and reduce our fossil fuel emissions,” Henning said.

Industrial process heat is the use of thermal energy to produce, treat, or modify manufactured goods and is the leading source of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the industrial sector, according to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Process heat is responsible for about 50% of all on-site energy consumption and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, the agency reports.

To understand the scope of the problem, process heating systems are emissions-intensive because the combustion of fossil fuels provides 95% of industrial heat in the U.S. manufacturing sector, according to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Building the country’s industrial sector away from burning fossil fuels could potentially include zero-carbon fuels, such as hydrogen or ammonia, and low-carbon fuels, such as biofuels made from plant waste or algae, according to the agency.

“I think the complex, global problems we face today are the ultimate opportunity for the business world to demonstrate their ingenuity in problem solving,” Cornelis said, noting: “The U.S. would benefit if they were to lead the way to a circular, inclusive, regenerative economy. and a fossil fuel-free economy.”

Electric vehicle subsidy

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation sector, including all forms of travel by land, air and sea, is responsible for nearly a third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization – signed in 2022 by the leaders of the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency – aims to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector by 2050.

While the rise in popularity and production of electric vehicles offers a glimpse of a zero-carbon transportation future, experts say America isn’t moving the needle far enough to reach our climate goals.

“We need to move from fossil fuel cars to electric cars and other low-emission vehicles,” Dr. Aiguo Dai to ABC News. “Otherwise we will not achieve the goals of substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next ten to twenty years.”

Dai believes the United States government should do more to encourage electric vehicles, through competitive pricing, subsidies for electric vehicle purchases and expansion of charging facilities.

“If there is a need, there will be a commercial market,” Dai said. “But at the very beginning we need the government to support investments in electric transport.”

According to the International Energy Agency, 10% of passenger cars sold worldwide will be electric by 2022.

The top five countries with the highest sales of electric vehicles are Norway, where 80% of car sales are electric vehicles, Iceland (41%), Sweden (32%), the Netherlands (24%) and China (22%). to the World Resources Institute, which notes that in the United States only 6% of car sales were electric.

“U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell 12% from 2005 to 2019, largely due to reductions in emissions from electricity generation,” Burkett said. “To reach net-zero emissions by 2050, U.S. emissions would need to fall by more than 6% per year.”

To be consistent with international climate goals, electric vehicle sales must grow 75% to 95% internationally by 2030, according to the World Resources Institute.

Depoliticize climate change

“We can’t get emissions to net zero without getting the US to net zero,” Samaras, who served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), told ABC News, adding added: “The Biden-Harris administration has taken the boldest climate action in history.”

The Biden-Harris administration has channeled a significant amount of money into climate action during its time in office, experts say, namely through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021.

“The United States is finally taking really significant action for the first time ever through the Inflation Reduction Act, although the name wouldn’t necessarily tell you that it was a major piece of climate legislation, but it really was,” Henning said.

The legislation provides funding, programs and incentives to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy, the EPA said, noting that the law “provides new access to clean energy tax credits, with a focus on reaching underserved populations and communities with environmental justice concerns.”

Henning explained that the legislation’s focus on environmental justice is exciting, especially at the federal level.

“The government is trying to get money to communities that need it most,” Henning said. “So instead of just looking at ways to get solar panels on the homes of wealthy families, they’re really looking at how we can bring resources to historically underserved communities and make them more resilient and less polluted so that we can do something about it to write. these historical inequities too.”

Earlier this month, the Biden-Harris administration announced $20 billion in awards to expand access to clean energy and climate solutions and lower energy costs for communities across the country.

“These are significant efforts that definitely move the needle,” Cornelis said. “The problem, however, is the opposing forces.”

Financing for renewables must also be covered by reducing spending on fossil fuels, Cornelis said, noting: “We are actually neutralizing our efforts.”

According to a report from OpenSecrets, the oil and gas industry spent approximately $124.4 million on lobbying the federal government in 2022, citing revelations about lobbying activities.

“Rich corporations know that climate action poses an existential threat to their sector, so they are incentivized to lobby hard and prevent politicians from implementing meaningful or drastic regulations to promote climate action,” Cornelis claimed.

“It’s like we’re cycling uphill as fast as we can while squeezing the brakes,” she said.

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