Over the last two years or so, the focal point for us humans has frequently, if not mostly, been the pandemic and necessarily so. Climate change, our over-reliance on fossil fuels, the pollution of soil, air, and water, overdevelopment and overpopulation — among other problems — have not gone away though. While Earth Day might not seem as pressing in an immediate sense compared with the pandemic, it’s just as important as ever.
One of the pleasures of creating sustainability content is interviewing a range of individuals who are engaged in taking better care of the planet and its many life forms. John Oppermann, the Earth Day Initiative’s Executive Director, answered some questions for CleanTechnica about the organization he leads.
What is the Earth Day Initiative, and what do you do there as the Executive Director?
Earth Day Initiative is an environmental nonprofit that aims to bring the spirit of the first Earth Day, when one out of every ten Americans came out to call for environmental action, into the 21st Century. We aim to connect the broader public with the environmental community and infuse new enthusiasm and support into the climate conversation and call for environmental justice. As Executive Director, I oversee our annual events and year-round programs that include our large-scale in-person events in NYC, and our virtual events that in recent years have included folks like Bill Nye, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Villasenor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Bill McKibben. I also host our Parts Per Million podcast that has focused on being a climate communicator.
What is the Earth Day Virtual Stage and why is it important?
We started the Earth Day 2022 Virtual Stage in 2020 as the world shut down due to COVID. We partnered with March for Science NYC on the virtual livestream broadcast hosting a wide range of experts, activists, and prominent people to continue the climate conversation around the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The message we have emphasized the last two years and with this spring’s virtual stage is that we don’t have the luxury of dealing with one crisis at a time. The world’s attention has rightfully turned to COVID and the invasion of Ukraine in the last few years, but we want to pivot and innovate to provide ways for people to continue to come together, even virtually, to push forward for real common solutions that will address the looming climate crisis.
What are several of the most important environmental problems we are facing today, and how can individuals do their part in helping solve them?
The climate crisis is really our most pressing challenge and we’re far behind in taking action to address it. One of the most impactful things you can do is be a climate communicator. There is what some have termed a “spiral of silence” around climate change in which a majority of people support robust climate action, but because people don’t talk about it we don’t realize how widespread support for climate action is. We need a critical mass of people to be talking about climate change to their friends, family, and colleagues and to those in power in government and business to reach a tipping point for climate action.
We live in a time with tremendous amounts of information, but some of that is misinformation, including lies. What are some trustworthy, fact-based online information sources about climate change and sustainability?
The recent IPCC reports are a good resource to get an understanding of where we’re at in dealing with the climate crisis and the path forward. The reports that were released this spring were aimed at helping people understand the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change we might be facing and what can be done.
We are in an exciting period right now for consumers, with electric vehicles, affordable solar power, and energy storage systems. How important is it that we all consider the future when we spend our money on personal transportation and how we operate our homes?
We need systemic change to deal with climate change, but your own actions can play a role in that in that what you spend on and what you do is like voting with your dollars and actions. So whatever you are doing, whether it’s buying an electric vehicle or installing solar panels, be loud about it and communicate that to decision makers in business and government so they receive the signal that there is demand for more sustainable systems.
You are a green home consultant. What is a green home, and what does that work entail?
A green home can mean a lot of things, but in general it’s one that is more energy efficient, healthier, and more resilient than a traditional home. I connect buyers and sellers in the green and healthy home space. There are so many options out there as far as homes that provide better air quality, better light quality, less exposure to toxic materials, energy efficiency, and resiliency to power outages and the effects of climate change. I want to make sure that homebuyers are aware of the vast range of benefits of living in a more sustainable home, aside from the benefits the environment, so we can build the demand for more sustainable buildings.
When it comes to environmental issues, what do you find encouraging?
We’ve seen more energy and momentum behind climate action in recent years since the youth climate strikes than I think we’ve ever seen. The environmental community and the broader public are demanding specifics. It’s no longer sufficient to make broad general commitments to go net zero. People are eager to see plans and specifics and get into the details of legislation and climate goals from both business and government. Those are the conversations we’re having now which is a step forward from where we were a few years ago.