By James B. Smith
In the US, we continue to advance the work begun on that first Earth Day
EACH April, the world celebrates Earth Day. Earth Day was first organized in 1970 in the United States when 20 million Americans took to parks and auditoriums to draw attention to increased pollution and environmental deterioration. They demonstrated for a healthy, sustainable environment and in doing so launched the modern environmental movement. A new popular environmental awareness led the US government to establish the Environmental Protection Agency in late 1970 and to enact groundbreaking legislation, the Clean Air Act of 1970 and Clean Water Act of 1972. These began to change the behavior of average citizens. Few people in 1970 would have believed how much fresher and cleaner America's air and water would be today.
Earth Day is now an international environmental day. Nations in every part of the world use this day to focus on the environment. Few of these countries are blessed with as diverse and as beautiful an environment as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. From the snows and forests of Abha to the majesty of the Empty Quarter, the Kingdom is richly endowed. Saudi Arabia has taken many positive steps to preserve its natural wonders, including establishing national parks for all to enjoy.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah is well aware of growing challenges to the nation and the world's environment. I take this opportunity to commend his hard work to meet them in the coming years. His establishment of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy is leading to the creation of a new strategy for nonpolluting atomic and solar energy to meet Saudi Arabia's growing energy demand. The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) is working on solar-powered desalination plants and planning to open its first test plant in 2013. This fine institution is also working to improve energy efficiency in sectors important to the Kingdom. The National Committee for the Clean Development Mechanism is about to initiate a new project that will reduce the emission of methane in landfills, preventing the release of this powerful greenhouse gas. Saudi Arabia's national institutions are meeting these challenges directly in a way that will meet growing resource demands in an environmentally friendly way.
Likewise in the US, we continue to advance the work begun on that first Earth Day. The administration of President Barack Obama has introduced new efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and set domestic policies to advance clean energy and climate security. The US vigorously engages in climate change negotiations.
The threats of pollution and the loss of natural resources are very real. Increased use of resources is raising environmental costs. Burning fossil fuels directly contributes to global warming. Scientists are sure that climate change will shift rain patterns, increase temperatures, and lead to generally more unpredictable and extreme weather. Global seas are rising. This may present problems for Saudi Arabia's (and America's) coastal cities. All nations will need to work to mitigate these dangers. Even wealthy nations, like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States, can begin to feel the quality of their lives diminished when resources are squandered.
The Kingdom currently benefits from some of the lowest water, electricity, and fuel prices in the world and its citizens enjoy lush gardens, cool homes, and large SUVs in a way that was once unimaginable. However, Saudi Arabia's growing population will significantly challenge available resources in the coming years. Electricity demand is expected to triple in the next 20 years. The demand for water, particularly desalinated water, will grow rapidly. More and more cars will fill the Kingdom's roads. This growth in demand will have real economic costs, as new power plants are built, desalination stations constructed, and new roads and highways crisscross the country.
While governments must address these serious challenges, any lasting improvement must come from changes in the behavior of individuals and businesses. As individuals, we each have a responsibility for saving this planet for our children and grand children. Where real environmental progress has been made, it began with parents and children at home, at work, in school, re-educating themselves and their colleagues to make the right choices and take the initiative to improve their immediate environment. We all need to do our part - turning off lights and appliances when the house is empty, not watering the lawn in the middle of the day. Our resources are too precious to waste. I am proud to tell our Saudi friends that our embassy staff uses water efficient kits distributed by the Saudi Ministry of Water and Electricity in our homes. These kits are designed to reduce water usage by an average of 30 percent, while allowing residents to enjoy water as usual.
In the US, our citizens are taking steps to improve household efficiency - they buy "greener" cars (cars with less harmful emissions). Our companies are reducing energy use by building green buildings. Our government is encouraging "green" research through direct funding and tax breaks.
As we do on many issues, Saudis and Americans can work to meet these challenges together. The cooperation between KACST and IBM on solar desalination is a perfect example.
President Obama summed up our need to act as responsible caretakers of our environment very nicely when he said, "This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet."
Reflecting on Earth Day, we have the opportunity to look around us and ask just what we could do to improve the environment that we live in every day and then - as individuals, as governments, as citizens of the earth - to do what we can.
Source: Arab News