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Nevada Marks 50th Earth Day With Green Agenda, Budgetary Concerns

On April 22, 1970, Earth Day was born, and it has since has become the unofficial birthday of the environmental movement.

Its founder was Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin who said he wanted to “shake the political establishment out of its lethargy.”

It might have taken decades, but last year Nevada embarked on an ambitious agenda to address climate change.

But where will that effort go in the wake of a pandemic that has devastated the state’s economy?

Kristen Averyt is a UNLV research professor and the newly named state climate policy coordinator.

She told KNPR's State of Nevada that all though the state will be in a tough budget environment, addressing climate change will have long term benefits for the state.

"I believe with climate action, addressing the climate issues in this state can really help us with some solutions as we move forward that will both improve our resilience to public health crises - if they happen in the future," she said, "But also, to help rebuild and diversify our economy."

She said by lowering our use of fossil fuels we can address climate change and improve air quality. Poor air quality can cause serious respiratory illnesses and pre-existing respiratory illness is a risk factor for developing COVID-19.

In addition, adding more renewable energy sources will help spark job growth in the state from an industry that is not tied to tourism and hospitality.

Bradley Crowell is the director of Nevada's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. He doesn't know just how much the coronavirus outbreak will end up costing his department but budget cuts are expected.

However, he said smart investments in addressing climate change will have long-term results.

"If you make smart, up-front investments now, you get a big payback later," he said, "I hope that we look into the medium and long-term as we decide on our budget priorities going forward so that we don't set ourselves back."

Crowell noted that Nevada is part of the U.S. Climate Alliance that has set out emission goals to reduce greenhouse gases. He said the state needs to set goals and take action to meet them.

He sees growing interest in conservation and recreation in Nevada and he believes the people of the state want change.

"I think the citizens of Nevada want us to do more to improve our air quality, provide more green options in terms of housing and transportation, and more sustainable recreation options," he said, "So, we’re going to do all of those things but it’s a heavy lift and it’s going to take a while.”

With most of the world shut down because of the virus, there have been dramatic decreases in air pollution; however, as promising as some of the pictures have been, Averyt said it may be just a blip.

"That is because the gasses that create problems with regards to air quality they stay in the atmosphere for a very short period of time," she said, "Carbon stays there for a long time and for that reason this is just going to be a blip on the radar."

She said even if Nevada were to stop all emissions immediately it would still see an increase in temperatures because of how the global climate system works.

"We've already seen a tremendous number of impacts to community in Southern Nevada and really across the whole state and globally and think about how those impacts will increase with two more degrees of warming," she said, "We really need to do what we can to ameliorate any future warming."  

Bradley Crowell, director, Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Kristen Averyt, UNLV research professor, state climate policy coordinator

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.