Planet Earth as seen from space.
NASA’s senior climate advisor Gavin Schmidt says the first views captured of Earth from space, like those seen during the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing, were “transformative”.
“Seeing the complexity of the earth system and its uniqueness in the cosmos, as far as we can tell, has been profoundly important for many, many of the scientists working on this,” he says.
“And that extra viewpoint is something…it changes your perspective in a very literal way.”
But that doesn’t mean humans have looked after their planet in the decades since.
Global warming emissions are expected to spike this year as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic and economies begin to recover.
Worldwide energy-related carbon dioxide emissions could surge by 1.5 billion metric tons this year, following last year’s decline due to the pandemic, according to a recent report from the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental group based in Paris.
That would be the second-largest annual increase in emissions since 2010 following the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, the IEA reported.
Speaking ahead of Thursday’s Earth Day, Schmidt warns climate change is impacting hurricanes, wildfires, and sea levels.
“As we’re warming, we’re also melting ice, we’re melting ice in mountain areas, glaciers are retreating, all of that water is effectively ending up in the ocean,” he says.
“The rate of change of sea level that we’ve seen over the last hundred years is accelerating because of these additional aspects of climate change.”
The first Earth Day, the brainchild of the late Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, happened in 1970 and sparked an environmental movement that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and many laws to protect water, air and wildlife.
This year Earth Day will be marked by a virtual climate summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden.
Under Biden, the United States has returned to the 2015 Paris climate accord. Participating nations are set to meet at the annual U.N. climate conference, which is being held in November in Glasgow, Scotland, to push for ambitious targets.
Both Washington and the European Union are aiming to go “carbon neutral” by mid century, a goal scientists say needs to be achieved to keep average global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) by the year 2100.
The Paris accord’s more ambitious target of capping global warming at 1.5 C (2.7 F) by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times would likely require even more drastic worldwide cuts in emissions.