Earth Day 50

50 Years of Earth Day

By Jeff Aalfs and Dave Pine

As we mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we are inspired by those who led the environmental movement to make the air we breathe and the water we drink cleaner and safer.

Visionaries such as former Peninsula Congressman Pete McCloskey led a bipartisan call to action to clean up our environment, resulting in the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – signed into existence by President Richard Nixon in December 1970 – just eight months after the inaugural Earth Day.

We are similarly inspired by the profound, widespread and creative efforts to answer the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. From Governor Newsom’s decisive leadership to the volunteer activities organized in neighborhoods throughout San Mateo County, we have responded with solidarity, vision and compassion.

That same collective spirit should guide and motivate our ongoing work to mitigate another crisis threatening our planet: climate change.

Today, we face an inflection point. Amid the rising levels of greenhouse gasses and the accompanying increased frequency of extreme weather events, the dangers of a warming planet are apparent for all to see. This is a crisis that our Earth Day pioneers five decades ago could not have imagined.

Last September, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors declared a Climate Emergency joining more than 1,400 international, national and local jurisdictions who have done the same. These declarations recognize the dire warnings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predicts global temperatures to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius as early as 2030, just 10 years from now.

For San Mateo County, higher global temperatures could cause sea levels to rise three feet or more by 2100, contribute to increasingly extreme weather such as intense rainfall, storms and heat, and also increase the risk of wildfires which are already wreaking havoc throughout the state.

While the situation is sobering, there are reasons for optimism as we have taken many significant actions to combat climate change right here in our county.

Peninsula Clean Energy, San Mateo County’s electricity provider, has nearly reached its goal of providing 100 percent greenhouse gas-free power for all customers and is moving swiftly toward all-renewable power. Portola Valley chose to adopt 100 percent renewable electricity for all town residents when Peninsula Clean Energy launched in 2016.

Moreover, Peninsula Clean Energy’s programs and investments are encouraging the electrification of transportation and buildings to replace fossil fuels with clean electricity. Thanks to rebates and other programs and investments, we are moving away from fossil fuels in our vehicles, offices and homes.

As we work to combat climate change, the vision of environmental stewardship that led to the first Earth Day remains as relevant and compelling today as it was a full half century earlier.

We can’t let up now. We must keep the electric vehicle pedal firmly to the metal and do all we can to decarbonize our economy and meet the climate change crisis with the same resolve and unanimity of purpose as we are demonstrating in confronting the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeff Aalfs is mayor of Portola Valley. Dave Pine represents District 1 on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. Both serve on the Board of Peninsula Clean Energy.