This April 22nd is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The idea for Earth Day was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson. He persuaded a Republican congressman, Pete McCloskey, to serve as co-chair. There is much to celebrate. “The national teach-in on the environment” has raised the awareness of generations that we are responsible for taking care of the Earth which takes care of us.
In the 1970s during the Nixon administration, a number of important pieces of environmental legislation were passed, among them the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Another key development was the establishment in December 1970 of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was tasked with protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment—air, water and land.
There were a number of factors that lead to the legislation: environmental realities included the Cuyahoga River catching fire, the Santa Barbara oil spill, the near death of Lake Erie and the near extinction of the bald eagle. Socially the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller “Silent Spring” in 1962 and the student lead anti-war movement were major factors. Politically, Republicans were also supportive of action on climate change. Even Newt Gingrich, the leader in the attack on partisanship, did a 2008 TV spot with Nancy Pelosi saying, “We do agree our country must take action to address climate change.”
This was before the fossil fuel industry captured the Republican leadership and the attack on science and environmental protection started. When profits take precedence over people, the people suffer. When this quarter's bottom line takes precedence over the long-term health of people, the people suffer. When the call for jobs is heeded without considering the costs in health and the environment, people and the Earth suffer.
The present crisis can be used to press for more policies that degrade the environment and degrades our health or it can be used to return to science based decisions. As our focus is directed to the COVID19 pandemic, the Trump administration is attacking environmental protections. A partial list included the opening of national parks to extractive industries, the reduction in the enforcement of environmental regulations, withdrawing from the Paris Climate agreement, the roll back of the Clean Power Act, the delisting of climate change from national security threats, and the weakening of fuel economy rules. Just the reduction in air quality costs an estimated annual increase of 10,000 deaths in the U.S.
The COVID-19 pandemic will have long lasting effects, but global warming is an existential threat. This 50th anniversary of Earth Day should mark a turning point. We can continue with business as usual, or we can join together to rebuild our economy to protect everyday working people from the COVID-19 crisis and deal with the effects of global warming.
This year Earth Day celebrations will be different. “Earth Day Live” will give you a chance to join the call to take action and make your voice heard in real time with thousands of other participants. Together our voices are powerful. To join the action go to: https://earthdaylive2020.org?source=email&