Earth Day Afterglow
Earth Day Afterglow
As I was watching Bob Weir on the stage in DC this past weekend, my mind started to do a little mental check list of the issues we faced and the promises we made in 1970.
It helped to have Denis Hayes present who along with Senator Gaylord Nelson was instrumental in organizing that first event a generation or so ago.
In 1970 there was a very real sense that the world was collapsing around our ears. Rivers were catching on fire, you couldn’t breathe in large cities, litter seemed to be burying us alive, and species were dropping like flies. And Iron Eyes Cody was crying.
In addition, recycling beyond a few Boy Scout paper drives and can collections did not exist; the founding of the US EPA was still months away; and the US Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act were all not yet on the books. DDT was still in use, no one cared about ozone and issues with climate change were only known to a few, very isolated scientists and some observant naturalists like Aldo Leopold’s children. And my folks were driving a Cadillac El Dorado with an engine large enough to power a small city.
When looked at in this context and with the understanding that the world’s population has grown 85% since 1970, we have done some pretty good work over the intervening 40 years. That said, we still have serious air pollution and our rivers are mostly not swimmable and fishable let alone drinkable as they once were and we have that dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Chesapeake too. So there is clearly much more to be done.
As I walked around the DC Climate Rally, looked at the displays, and watched dozens walk by in "Avatar" inspired face paint, I wondered what it would take to place us where we should be in 2020—at the Earth Day plus 50 mark. And three things came to mind.
The first thing is that we have to be honest. We can no longer feel detached from miners, oil rig workers, or soldiers who die to provide us with fossil fuels for our unsustainable lifestyles and think that is has nothing to do with us. Hopefully acceptance of this reality and responsibility will help bring awareness and better choices that diminish the need for extraordinary and risky actions to support our excesses and waste.
We also have to be smart. We have to be smart both in terms of developing new and novel solutions and technologies and also in making determinations as consumers as to which technologies are real and which are false. This means we need to work harder on education regardless of what Texas wants to do with text books. Our students and populace need to be proficient in science and mathematics in order to understand that the intricate subtleties and devilish details of fuel cells, algal farms, and corn-based plastics are important to our future. Critical thinking and knowledge-based skepticism need a renaissance in order to avoid wasted energy on products such as on-board hydrogen generators, air ionizers, and tachyon devices.
And the last is that we have to be bold. We will not achieve success by a long shot if we are not absolutely bold in our thinking and actions. If your architect recommends six inch walls and 2500 square feet, you should be prepared to ask why not eight inch and 2000 square feet and where are the solar panels and composting toilet? When your wife suggests that a drive to the ice cream stand might be in order, why not suggest a romantic stroll to the stand instead? And when you are looking for cars why not opt for an electric or make your second car a bike? (You might find in all of this boldness that you also save money as well as the Planet.)
As I sense Dick Cheney is snarling and waiting in a tree to pounce on me and criticize me for making everyone wear a hair shirt, I will add that there is probably a fourth element in the success of this and that is: Have fun doing it. So be honest, be smart and bold, and have fun and let’s see if we can make good on the complete promise of Earth Day by 2020.
Editor’s Note: This is such a great post by Bob that we wanted to include the video of Iron Eyes Cody, produced by Greenopolis Partner Keep America Beautiful. One of the most poignant environmental reminders ever made.
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