10 Earth Day facts that might surprise you

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This Earth Day, test your environmental knowledge by participating in CBS News’ #OutGreenMe challenge. Grab your phone and quiz someone with the below facts and show us how much you know about our changing climate. Here are some true or false questions to get you started.

1. True or False: The fashion industry in 2018 produced 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

Garment Factory Waste Dump Contributes To Environmental Issues In Bangladesh
Waste material from a garment factory is dumped in a canal at Savar on February 21, 2022, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 

Getty Images


TRUE: The fashion sector in 2018 was responsible for approximately 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is about 4% of the global total, according to a 2020 report authored by the sustainability nonprofit Global Fashion Agenda and management consulting firm McKinsey and Company. 

The study found that 70% of the fashion industry’s emissions came from what’s known as upstream activities like materials production and processing. Researchers forecast greenhouse gas emissions from the fashion industry to rise to nearly 2.7 billion tons each year by 2030 if no further action is taken over the next decade. 

“People typically only get a few uses out of these items and then throw them away, contributing to more waste and emissions,” Yaheya Heikal, CEO of the environmental management company Futurae Vision, told CBS News. “Our clothes should last for years, not a few uses.”

2. True or False: Natural disasters in 2021 cost the United States more than $200 billion.

California Wildfire
The Colorado Fire burns along Highway 1 near Big Sur, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022.

Nic Coury / AP


FALSE: In 2021, natural disasters cost the United States approximately $148 billion, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. The agency counted 20 weather and climate disasters including flooding, wildfires and tropical cyclones in 2021, which resulted in the deaths of 724 people. Since 1980, the country has experienced 323 weather and climate disasters, costing in excess of $2.195 trillion. 

And according to the United States Geological Survey, increasing temperatures across the globe pave the way for more droughts and more intense storms. 

“As more water vapor is evaporated into the atmosphere it becomes fuel for more powerful storms to develop,” the USGS said. 

3. True or False: The food service industry contributed to 50% of global food waste in 2019.

Virus Outbreak Britain
Rubbish bins overflow behind shops in London, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. 

Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP


FALSE: The food service industry produced 26% of the 931 million tons of food waste generated in 2019, according to a report published in 2021 by the United Nations Environment Programme. Researchers found that an estimated eight to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that isn’t consumed. 

The Environment Programme’s executive director Inger Andersen said food waste “burdens waste management systems, exacerbates food insecurity, making it a major contributor to the three planetary crises of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.”

The study calls for countries to make more of an effort in measuring food and inedible parts thrown away at both the retail and consumer level. Researchers also called for countries to track food waste and to address the role that consumers play in it.

“There is growing evidence of success in reducing food waste,” Anderson said. “If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

4. True or False: Approximately 80% of the world’s wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused.

Mexico US Sewage
A couple walk along the beach as signs warn of contaminated water Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, at Imperial Beach, California. 

Gregory Bull / AP


TRUE: According to the United Nations, 80% of the world’s wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused and approximately 44% of household wastewater isn’t safely treated across the globe. Because of this, around 1.8 billion people worldwide utilize a drinking water source that’s potentially contaminated with feces. Those consuming untreated water are at risk of contracting diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. 

The United Nations reports that low and lower-middle income countries are at the greatest risk of exposure to pollutants in water because of higher population, the lack of wastewater management systems and economic growth. 

“As populations grow and natural environments become degraded, ensuring there are sufficient and safe water supplies for everyone is becoming increasingly challenging,” the UN said. “A major part of the solution is to produce less pollution and improve the way we manage wastewater.”

5. True or False: Each of the last four decades has been increasingly warmer than any decade that preceded it.

Heat Wave California
Athletes John Richardson, left, and wife, Sam use a pair of UV-Blocking Sun protection umbrellas while speed-walking in Elysian Park in Los Angeles Wednesday, July 7, 2021. 

Damian Dovarganes / AP


TRUE: According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the last four decades have each been successively warmer than any decade that came before it since 1850. Scientists concluded that greenhouse gases from human activities are behind the approximate 1.1 degree Celsius of warming between the years 1850 to 1900. 

The United Nations chief António Guterres warned this month that the planet is on the path to global warming of more than double the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit limit agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He said the world is “already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate effects.”

“This is not fiction or exaggeration,” Guterres said. “It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies.”

6. True or False: Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 reached the highest level of concentration at the planet’s surface in at least the last 800,000 years.

Biden-Cost of Carbon
Emissions rise from the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant as the suns sets, near Emmett, Kan., Sept. 18, 2021. 

Charlie Riedel / AP


TRUE: Despite a 6% to 7% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns, carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 reached its highest level of concentration at the planet’s surface in at least the last 800,000 years, according to the 31st annual State of the Climate report published by the American Meteorological Society and led by the NOAA. 

Scientists found that the year-over-year increase in global carbon dioxide levels over the past half century has tripled, resulting in above-average temperatures across the world. Global sea levels in 2020 reached their highest point, highest average ocean heat content and experienced the most tropical cyclones in history.

“We have altered our planetary home to such an extent that we are making it difficult for society, business, and government to function as usual,” John Opperman, executive director of the nonprofit Earth Day Initiative, told CBS News. “We have to come to terms with the changes we have brought about already and work to remedy them so as to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The only thing that can provide solace is that this is a human-caused problem so it’s within our power as humans to solve it.”

7. True or False: About 50% of a washing machine’s energy goes towards heating the water.

Close-Up Of Washing Machine
Washing machines.

Bombaert Patrick / Getty Images


FALSE: Nearly 90% of a washing machine’s energy goes towards heating the water, according to the American Cleaning Institute. Households that switch to laundering solely in cold water could eliminate nearly 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, according to the Institute. 

“Many garment care labels in your clothing specify to wash in cool or cold water,” the American Cleaning Institute said. “Your clothes can fade, shrink or bleed when washed in the wrong water temperature. The right temperature can prolong the lifespan of your clothes and save you money.”

8. True or False: The weight of annual plastic waste production across the globe is nearly equivalent to that of the entire human population.

Bottling plant
Bottling plant – Water bottling line for processing and bottling carbonated water into bottles.

/ Getty Images


TRUE: Each year, humans produce nearly 400 million tons of plastic waste, which is nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. The environmental group reports that the amount of plastic waste generated in the early 2000s rose more in a single decade than it had in the prior 40 years. Across the world, 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every single minute and half of all plastic produced is designed for single-use purposes. 

By 2050, the global production of primary plastic is forecast to reach 34 billion tons. 

“We need to slow the flow of plastic at its source, but we also need to improve the way we manage our plastic waste,” the Environment Programme said. “Right now, a lot of it ends up in the environment.”

9. True or False: 15 million tons of trash in total were recycled or composted in the United States during 2018. 

New York Canners
Aluminum cans are organized for redemption at the Sure We Can recycling depot, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in the Bushwick neighborhood of New York. 

John Minchillo / AP


FALSE: Around 94 million tons of municipal solid waste were recycled or composted in the United States during 2018, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s latest materials management fact sheet published in 2020. The agency found that the amount recycled or composted in 2018 saved more than 193 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is comparable to the emissions that could be reduced from taking nearly 42 million cars off the road in an entire year. 

Municipal solid waste, or trash, includes items like packaging, food, yard trimmings, furniture and more. Solid waste generation reached 4.91 pounds per person every day in 2018, which is an increase from 4.51 pounds per person each day in 2017. 

10. True or False: The seven warmest years for the ocean have all been the last seven years.

Rotten sea ice at over 80 degrees North off the north coast of Svalbard
Rotten sea ice at over 80 degrees North off the north coast of Svalbard. 

Getty Images


TRUE: According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the seven highest ocean heat content levels have all occurred between 2015 to 2021. Record-high heat was identified in 2021 across the North Atlantic Ocean, the North Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. 

Greenhouse gases in the air, which trap heat inside the Earth’s climate, drive the warming oceans because more than 90% of heat accumulates in the ocean, NOAA said. 

Increased ocean heat content contributes to rising sea levels, coral bleaching, melting glaciers and ice sheets as well as ocean heat waves. The heat stored in the ocean will eventually be released and will contribute to increases in the Earth’s surface temperature, according to NOAA

More tips and information are available from EarthDay.org, which advocates for people to get involved in the environmental movement.





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