Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day - we've come a long way, but there's still a long way to go

There’s a lot to celebrate since the birth of the modern environmental movement some 45 years ago.

40 years ago, raw sewage and industrial waste was being pumped directly into rivers. Acid rain was falling. Smog blanketed most big cites. Forests were being cut down at an accelerating rate. Toxins were everywhere.

It was much easier for people to get involved. They saw the problems at their doorsteps.

40 years later, the rivers of the US are mostly clear, with abundant fish and wildlife in and around them. Acid rain? That’s a term many who were born past the 70’s know only from history class. Cities have much cleaner air. In LA there's still smog, but you can actually see the valley. Forests are still being cut down too fast, but at least in the US, clear cutting has slowed dramatically, and sustainable logging is growing, with new trees being planted whenever one is cut down.

The most often cited environmental problem today is that of climate change. But that’s something most people don’t see on a daily basis. It’s doesn’t prompt a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) response. And the skepticism of climate change is greater than ever, bolstered by overblown and inaccurately reported stories like “climate gate”.

How do we get back to that environmentalist enthusiasm and sense of urgency, the kind that prompted Republicans like Richard Nixon to sign major pieces of legislation like the Clean Water Act and extension of the Clean Air Act?

I’m not sure, but in the meantime, it’s important to remember what has been accomplished. But we have a long way to go.

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