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Earth Day Regression

Since 1970, it’s been all downhill

Earth Day 1970 was irrefutable evidence the American people understood the environmental threat and wanted action to resolve it.

–Barry Commoner, American biologist and environmental activist.

Methinks Barry Commoner was more than a tad optimistic. Three and a half decades later, I am not alone in questioning whether the American people understand the environmental threat. Yes, the majority wants action — if they can have it without inconvenience.

My environmentalist friend Carol still thinks Earth Day is important. Important enough that it should be considered a national holiday to get the attention of the citizenry around our now-fragile globe. “Why not?” she asks.

“Heavens no,” responded this writer. “It’s the worst thing we can do.”

T’would be better to banish the observance altogether. Stick with Arbor Day, and let it carry the conservation load. Tell you why.

You all know how Americans observe national holidays. Labor Day is the only one properly celebrated these days in accordance with its original intent: Those who work are given a day off to play, and that they do. Good, that’s what was intended.

What about Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day? They’re days off from work. Easter? Presidents Day? Fourth of July? New Year’s Day? You name it: No matter the national holiday, who even pauses to think of any significance beyond the day off work.

Add Earth Day, and what do you get? Still another day for no work, just play. So what does the typical American family do? Hops in the family car and heads out to play. Make Earth Day a national holiday, and as soon as the ignition is turned on, we’re violating the meaning of the day. We’re starting off by leaving carbon footprints, not erasing them.

That’s just the start. We’d picnic on foods in plastic containers, or stop at fast food joints because the kids love French fries and burgers, leaving behind more wasted plastic and the carbon footprints of its manufacture. Every mile farther from home, more emissions via the tailpipe, more damage via carbon footprints. Tires wear, quicker comes the time for an oil change. Head for the movies or the mall, and power for air conditioning or heat is humming. More electricity, more carbon released into the atmosphere.

Where does it end? It doesn’t.

38 Years and Losing Ground

Look, I’m all for Earth Day in it’s original concept. We need a day to remind us that, wherever we live, from Annapolis to Zimbabwe, we are destroying our earth — and had better turn things around. If not, generations as young as our children and grandchildren could be facing the consequences of our ignorance and our love of creature comforts.

Our greed.

Three and a half decades ago, when we first observed Earth Day, nobody but the scientists had heard of global warming — and even among them there were skeptics aplenty.

Being of dirt-farmer stock with a passion for soil, trees and water — though I didn’t at the time have the slightest notion of global warming — I got on the Earth Day bandwagon immediately. I recall my first mention of it, on the big day itself, in an Evening Sun column.

Know what our chief concerns were back then?

Detergents running off to our waters; aerosol hair sprays and anything to do with compressed gases in metal cans; overpopulation; our waste of non-renewable resources like oil (gas was about 35 cents a gallon, diesel 10 cents less); clean water to drink; Chesapeake Bay; nuclear power plants then on many a drawing board; and development that was wiping out trees and the Amazon’s rain forest.

All important stuff, admittedly. But look what we face on Earth Day 2008. Those who are informed have learned that Mother Earth is not invincible after all. Nor are we like the Native Americans, who did not despoil the waters where they drank or cut the trees where the game lived.

We could have learned more from the Native Americans than they were forced to learn from us. Mother Earth would have prospered.

Flattening the Earth

So on Earth Day, 2008, I’m frustrated, worried and dismayed. Much of the populace is akin to citizens five centuries ago, who believed the Earth was flat. But when it became obvious Earth wasn’t flat, exploration made up for lost time. The beginning of the end.

Should we persist in ignoring global warming, there’s more than a good chance that future generations won’t be able to make up for time lost. We’re stretching the rubber band too far. When it snaps …

Around today’s world there is much discontent, and already some rioting due to hunger. One way we’re trying to play catch up is turning edible crops into fuel — and not just to lessen impact in the atmosphere but also to lessen the expense of getting from here to there while cutting our dependence on foreign oil.

Diverting corn, soybeans, rice and other crops to fuel is raising the price of food. In increasing areas on this Earth, there are countless poor who cannot afford the growing costs of their staple grains. In the battle of hunger versus energy, there can be no winner. And this is just the beginning.

Wait and see when the significant consequences of global warming arrive. It won’t just be 400-pound polar bears on a melting 400-pound ice floe. Croplands will be lost — and we don’t have enough even now to supply both energy and food. We see the consequences shaping up right here in Maryland where the legislature just wrapped up its dismal environmental performance.

Gov. Martin O’Malley wanted legislation that would have put us in the forefront of states outpacing the feds in facing up to global warming. But fears of costs, impact on the economy and jobs got in the way. But the guv had tried, I thought — and will keep on trying.

Then I noted he had KO’d putting windmills on state-owned land on mountaintops in Garrett County to create energy. What? Where else can windmills work but high enough to catch the winds? Mountaintops are not usually farming country; in Garrett County, they’re parts of state forests and parks. This is not about aesthetics. It’s about a clean energy resource. Windmills on public lands make a start and set an example.

That’s just the tip of the huge iceberg.

Observing our 37th Earth Day, we’re so much worse off than we were in 1970. Earth is not flat — but we’re flattening it.

Enough said.

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