Remarks at the Meeting with Secondary School Students and Teachers at the Lavender Visitor Center in Tihany

Good Morning!  I am very pleased to have the opportunity to visit Balaton-felvidéki National Park to help celebrate Earth Day this week.

I would like to thank Director Puskás, and his colleagues at the National Park Directorate for welcoming us and organizing a great visit for me and the U.S. delegation.  We are excited to see the remarkable natural beauty of this region.

I would also like to thank Marianna Küsz, the manager of the Lavender Visitor Center, for welcoming us here and for providing the opportunity to speak with you today about the importance of National Parks in promoting nature conservation and environmental protection.

On April 22, the world will commemorate the 46th annual Earth Day, which is viewed as the birth of the modern U.S. environmental movement.  The first Earth Day event in 1970 mobilized millions of Americans.  Their actions led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

Today, over one billion people in 192 countries participate in Earth Day activities, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

This year the theme of Earth Day is “Trees for the Earth.”  Our planet is currently losing over 15 billion trees each year (equivalent to 48 football fields every minute) from deforestation, land development, and unsustainable forest management.

In honor of Earth Day’s 50th anniversary that will take place in 2020, the Earth Day Network announced “Trees for the Earth,” a plan to plant 7.8 billion trees by Earth Day 2020: one tree for every person on the planet.

Last year, I planted a tree of friendship in the park in front of the U.S. Embassy with the Mayor of the Fifth District of Budapest and the Provost of the Central European University.  I hope you will consider planting a tree as well.

Planting trees will contribute to three major goals:

  • Mitigating Climate Change and Pollution: planted trees absorb excess and harmful carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.  In a single year, it takes roughly 96 trees to absorb the amount of carbon dioxide produced by one person.
  • Protecting Biodiversity: by planting the right trees, we can help counteract the loss of species, as well as provide increased habitat connectivity between regional forest patches.
  • Supporting Communities and their Livelihoods: planting trees help communities achieve long-term economic and environmental sustainability and provide food, energy, and income.  Studies have shown that schools with tree cover have reduced asthma and lung disease rates.

This year is a very important milestone in the history of environmental protection and nature conservation for two reasons.

First, world leaders are making history this Friday at the United Nations in New York, when over 100 countries will sign the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, representing their commitment to formally join.  This marks a turning point in the history of our planet and may set a record for the largest number of signatories to an international agreement in a single day.

A greener future is already in sight.  Leaders of countries and cities are adapting and innovating away from fossil fuels, and business owners are investing in a clean energy economy.

The United States is moving forward in its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.  We are doing this through the strongest fuel economy standards for cars and trucks in our history, through our 20-fold increase in solar generation since 2009, and through proposed rules on everything from energy efficiency standards for appliances to reduction in emissions of methane gas from municipal solid waste landfills.

Second, this year is also very important in the history of nature conservation for the United States because we are celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, which was created as a federal bureau in the Department of the Interior on August 25, 1916.

The very first national park in the world was Yellowstone National Park, which Congress established in 1872.  Yellowstone helped launch a worldwide national park movement.

National parks are truly a democratic idea.  The magnificent natural wonders of a country should be available to everyone and not just to a privileged few.

National parks function as cultural icons of heritage and identity.  For many, they preserve the pristine essence and pioneering spirit of the United States.  Icons such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon have come to represent the nation as a whole.  National parks are the legacy we leave our children.

The National Park System of the United States now comprises more than 400 sites covering more than 84 million acres.  Today, more than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s National Parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.

The U.S. National Parks contain: at least 247 species of threatened or endangered plants and animals; more than 75,000 archeological sites, nearly 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures; 18,000 miles of trails, the world’s largest carnivore – the Alaskan brown bear, the world’s largest living things – Giant Sequoia trees, the longest cave system known to the world – Mammoth Cave National Park, with more than 400 miles of mapped caves.

In Hungary, this is the fourth national park that I have visited.  Previously, I visited Aggteleki, Fertő-Hansági, and Hortobágyi National Parks. Today, I am very delighted to be here to learn about the history of the 20,000 year old Lake Balaton and the unique geological formations in its surroundings.

I am very impressed by the excellent work that the professionals of this National Park Directorate and their partners carry out.  I would also like to thank the local citizens, especially teachers and students who contribute to maintaining the natural heritage of this region for future generations.  All of these initiatives will make a significant impact on the Earth and will serve as the foundation of a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable planet for all.

As you decide on the course of your university studies and professions in the future, I encourage you to consider environmental-related fields.  They are becoming more important for all of us and will be the key to a better future for Hungary, the United States, and the world.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your questions.