Earth Day: Science, Climate, and the Future

The modern environmental movement was born 45 years ago today. A small group of twenty-somethings with a passion for the environment rallied together to create a more earth-conscious society, establishing what has become known as Earth Day.

The original Earth Day focused primarily on the pollution issue, but this year’s Earth Day is heavily directed towards climate change and the energy infrastructure.

While there may be a war on science happening with people and politicians alike dismissing climate change as mere myth, scientists conducting research in the field state that evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.

When looking at climate change on a global level, the numbers speak for themselves.

  • Carbon dioxide levels are at their highest in 650,000 years
  • Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000
  • Land ice is dropping by 258 billion metric tons per year
  • Sea levels have risen nearly 7” over the past 100 years

At least 200 worldwide scientific organizations now formally hold the position that climate change has been caused by human action. A sustainable and efficient energy infrastructure is the key to providing necessary global power and reducing the negative environmental impact.

“We pretty much have all the technologies we need. We certainly need to be able to upscale them and get things cheaper,” said John A. Turner, Research Fellow at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “The issue is how do you replace an essentially established infrastructure with a new one? What’s your motivation for changing it? You need political support.”

While countries like Germany are wholeheartedly dedicated to renewable energy, other areas of the world do not appear to have the same dedication or beliefs.

When looking at the Aral Sea near Kazakhstan, one can see climate change in action. The photo to the left was taken in 2000. The photo to the right depicts what the sea looked like in 2014 due to the extremely hot and dry summers.Image: NASA

When looking at the Aral Sea near Kazakhstan, one can see climate change in action. The photo to the left was taken in 2000. The photo to the right depicts what the sea looked like in 2014 due to the extremely hot and dry summers.
Image: NASA

Recently, the first-ever review of energy infrastructure challenges was issued by President Obama. The Quadrennial Energy Review focused on defining challenges, threats, risks, and opportunities related the United States energy and climate security.

IEEE took the findings from this report and developed a priority list. IEEE cited energy storage and a shift from the current energy infrastructure to a more renewable one among the most important issues to address.

“The percent of electricity produce by solar, wind, and fuel cells will increase with time, but only—in my opinion—incrementally. Mainly because the infrastructure we already have utilizes fossil fuels,” said Subhash C. Singhal of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

In order to change the energy infrastructure, we first need the necessary science and engineering breakthroughs, such as advancements in energy storage and more efficient solar cells.

“Electrochemistry nowadays is really the key,” said Turner. “We have fuel cells, we have electrolyzers, and we have batteries. All of the things going on in transportation and storage. It all comes down to electrochemical energy converters.”

For reasons such as this, we will be hosting the ECS Conference on Electrochemical Energy Conversion & Storage with SOFC-XIV this July in Glasgow.

Take a look at our Technical Interest Areas to get a better grasp of the interdisciplinary nature of electrochemistry and exactly how tied our science is to creating a sustainable planet.

Check out these open access papers on energy and climate from our Digital Library:

ECS is also trying improve the speed and efficiency of scientific innovation by moving toward open access publication. If we can make our scientists’ research more widely accessible, it may yield serious implications for action on climate change. You can support these efforts directly by donating to the ECS Publications Endowment.

PS: Did you miss Global Citizen’s Earth Day coverage this past Saturday? Check it out here to see inspiring speeches and amazing musical performance.


All content provided in the ECS blog is for informational purposes only. The opinions and interests expressed here do not necessarily represent ECS's positions or views. ECS makes no representation or warranties about this blog or the accuracy or reliability of the blog. In addition, a link to an outside blog or website does not mean that ECS endorses that blog or website or has responsibility for its content or use.

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