Friday, March 25, 2011

What can we celebrate on Earth Day?

It is less that a month until Earth Day comes again. I hope to have my Green Talk column in my local Morgan Hill Times then and have been trying to find a way to write something that is both new and positive. The more I consider the task, the harder it becomes.

The 1st Earth Day was a time of great hope. It appeared that a new future was upon us, one that promised to repair the damage we had already done to this earth. There seemed to be a determination to ensure that we would stop destroying the environment because, in the long run, that meant we would be destroying our own civilization.

In retrospect, that promise has never been fulfilled, even though some hare working legislators managed to codify it's intent. We might now have the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, but we no longer have the hope and determination. Rather than pushing forward toward a better world, we are fighting a defensive war against an activist movement that would roll back these laws and defund or eliminate the EPA. It leave me asking "What went wrong?"

America has always had a sense that it was good to live small. Many continue to find their inspiration on the edge of Thoreau's Walden Pond. Not as many know and appreciate the Sand County Almanac of Aldo Leopold and have not considered his view of a land ethic.
All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.

Leopold wrote this in 1949. Between then and Earth Day, we had the chance to read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. That gave us the truth about the problems we were causing and brought about the ban on DDT. Still, within the past month, we had people testifying to Congress that Carson was wrong and that the ban on DDT caused untold deaths from Malaria.

By the time that the 1st Earth Day arrived in 1970, it was a national movement, fired up by student enthusiasm. Not partisan, like today's discussion, there were 2 co-chairs: Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson (Dem) and California Representative Pete McCloskey (Rep). But that spirit of working together soon vanished. By 2003, they were calling for a re-birth of the movement.
A letter sent March 17 to more than 4,000 student leaders urged them to help rebuild a constituency for the environment. It suggests organizing events in their schools and communities, and sending a delegate to a national student conference on politics and the environment in September.

Despite war, the sour economy, and threats of terrorism, the letter said, "There is no more terrifying legacy than a changed climate or an epidemic of extinction."

The letter was signed by Mr. Nelson. Mr. McCloskey, Mr. (Dennis) Hayes (former Stanford student body president), and Stewart Udall, a former congressman and Department of the Interior secretary.
Not much of that happened either.

So, I am asking you to tell me what went wrong. I have my own ideas. It has to do with our increased urbanization and detachment from the land. It has to do with the pace of events as we lurch from catastrophe to catastrophe, from earthquake / tsunami to civil wars in remote countries to the edge of nuclear catastrophe all in a week of 24 hr news. It may now be exacerbated by the ease with which communication takes place online and with some electronic device to show or mask you true meanings.

So, readers, tell me why you think we are where we are, fighting now to prevent an epidemic of extinction.

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