Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day: A Retrospective, A Reflection...and A Warning

The year was 1990. It was a happy time. Vanilla Ice was shattering hip-hop’s monochromatic glass ceiling, we were training the Taliban, not hunting them, the A-Team was safely confined to television, not being tragically re-imagined for the big screen and wars in Iraq lasted months, not years.

Sure we had environmental problems but they were solvable, if not quaint problems like acid rain, deforestation, oil spills and holes in the ozone layer. Yet somewhere (maybe in Burlington, Vermont, maybe not) a group of hippies packed the ninth bong of their morning session, inhaled and hatched a plan. The plan was simple…take Earth Day global. And so they did.

Blogger’s Disclaimer: I made that up. The idea to go global was hatched by an environmental activist named Denis Hayes. But my version is much more least I think so.

Earth Day was born in 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson (no, I did not make up that name) in an effort to raise awareness about environmental issues in the wake of an oil spill that ravaged the coast of Santa Barbara. It started as a grass-roots effort to increase global consciousness and stimulate change. And what started out as a day celebrated in the United States by 2,000 colleges is now embraced by a majority of the planet.

And as it rolls around once again, I cannot help but reflect on it all. Why it started, the problems we had then, the problems we have now and whether or not this day has made much of a difference.

So here we are, forty-one years later and much has changed; but not necessarily for the better. We still have oil spills but now they occur a mile underwater and go on for three months. Deforestation is no longer something we oppose, just something we accept. Acid rain still occurs but it gets much less press than our new quagmires like resource depletion, radiation contamination and global warming.

So has Earth Day served its purpose? My cynicism not withstanding, strides have certainly been made. Over the last four decades, laws like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act have been put into place to protect our natural resources and keep the term bio-diversity itself from becoming extinct. Recycling, solar power, the Kyoto Protocol; without the Earth Day movement, they may not have evolved as they have. 

And who knows…without Earth Day, our Floridian waterways may be devoid of sea cows. And where would we be then?

Would you really miss me?

But it just seems like environmentalists are always (and pardon the ecological analogy) swimming against the current. No matter how much evidence presents itself, the government resists taking action…as if irreparable damage to our natural world were some nagging predicament that those damn hippies just wouldn’t stop bitching about. And our elected officials rarely respond to bitching…or hippies for that matter.

But we do have problems and we need to solve them even if, as Al Gore so eloquently pointed out, doing so is somewhat inconvenient.

But is it me or are our problems getting bigger? And the bigger they get, the more complicated and difficult the prospect of changing them becomes. There is one problem in particular that does not get as much press as it should and it is one that is enabling and augmenting the litany of environmental issues that plague us. 


China had a population problem. And in a move that was heralded by many as Orwellian and inhumane, they limited a portion of its populous to one child per family. The policy has successfully curbed population growth by preventing approximately 400 million childbirths in the last thirty-two years. And other countries need to start implementing variations of this policy...or at least entertaining the notion. 

Because we have more people than food to feed them and in cities like New York, we have more people than square footage to house them. We’ve got more cars that guzzle more gas than we can drill, barrel, process and sell for anything less than $4 a barrel. And it doesn’t stop there.

With our natural resources diminishing, oil reserves being drained and our environment being continuously polluted while our population skyrockets, you can see the potential for things to get significantly worse.

And on this Earth Day, dare I ask what we are doing about it? Well, the bad news is that the GOP is still operating under the ‘Global Warming is a myth’ precept. They illustrated this during the recent budget showdown when they tried to attach a provision to the budget that would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to...wait for it...protect the environment by regulating CO2 emissions. And the worse news is that President Obama has been giving the GOP far too much of what it wants these days.

This year, the Earth Day Network is launching 'A Billion Acts of Green', the largest environmental service campaign in the world. Its goal is to register one billion green actions, large and small, before the Earth Summit scheduled for next year in Rio.

This pledge is a good thing. But it’s not enough. Grass roots activism will only go so far. We need bold initiatives from our government, regardless of how ‘inconvenient’ taking action may be in these trying financial times. But what happens if nothing is done? Allow me to paint a few alarmist scenarios for you.

Option A) by 2017, the world’s population rises to eleven billion and in efforts to feed everyone, geneticists engineer a three thousand ton mega-cow that is pumped full of so much Human Growth Hormone that it breaks Barry Bonds homerun record. (the accomplishment is shunned by Coopers Town but to little protest) 

Soon after, the GOP’s belief in the benign nature of global warming is proven wrong when the polar ice caps melt entirely. Those that survive either use the mega-cow as a floating landmass they call home or take to the seas; growing gills and mullets and drinking their own urine to survive.

Option B) The population continues it’s mathematical ascension and as it does, our oil, water and natural food sources evaporate. Poverty and unemployment rates rise and with a fiscally paranoid government in place, nothing is done to invest in clean, renewable energy or even fuel-efficient automobiles for that matter. America continues to fall behind the rest of the world in terms of energy, education and economic growth.

Once this happens, we delve even further into a polarized abyss of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ The ‘have nots’ will die off and the ‘haves’ will survive but not for long. Due to the numerous detriments inclusive in their diets, cancer and diabetes become permanently embedded in homo sapien DNA and within thirty years, the average life expectancy drops to seven. Eventually, it drops to zero.

The rest of the planet won’t fair much better. Third Worlders that don’t die from irradiated spinach will wade through cholera-infested and radically depleted water supplies in search of a disease-free drink but the only way to get one is to buy a bottle of water with money they don’t have in a city they can’t get to. Fertile, farmable land becomes extinct, as do vegetarians. Zen Palate goes out of business but no one cares. And without vegetables to feed on, all carnivores, starting with Texans and undeomesticated felines but spreading to all others, die off soon after.


Option C) We can join the Earth Day Network pledge and take one action in an effort to initiate change one small stride at a time. Then we can demand that our elected officials act NOW to curb the emissions of greenhouse gases and take better measures to insure that something like the BP oil spill NEVER happens again. But we cannot stop there. We need oil and coal taxes that will actually deter their usage and nudge us toward solar, wind and yes, despite Japan, nuclear power. Our classrooms must not only catch up to the rest of the world, but eclipse them so that future generations can lead the way toward a cleaner, sustainable future in a lush, fertile and harvestable planet.

Why? Because I want to drink cholera-free water, not my own urine. I want to eat free-range poultry, not a mega-cow scavenged upon by those fortunate enough to have survived an ecological holocaust. I don’t want to grow gills. I want to grow old with my children who can swim in the ocean and not be flammable afterwards. I want to believe in a better, cleaner tomorrow. And at some point, we have to start securing that for ourselves. Because if we don’t, we will have one pissed off Mother on our hands.

Click on the link below the image to join me. Happy Earth Day.


1 comment:

  1. You speak of overpopulation and having 'more people than food'. You speak of Earth Day-period. Stop speaking and start being. Extend your compassion and concern for our Earth by eating a plant based diet. Put your taste buds aside for a moment and do some research. What will you learn? You'll learn how selfish people truly are, how much food we could have for EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE - not just in your lovely NY backyard. You'll learn that the land we occupy to graze the animals we will eventually mindlessly slaughter for our taste buds, could provide MORE than enough sustenance for our growing population.

    Let's see how much you really want to 'believe in a better, cleaner tomorrow'?

    Stop making excuses.

    Stop writing about how our Earth has changed and start taking personal responsibility.

    Start eating a plant based diet, and our groundwater might have a chance to purify itself.

    Start extending your compassion towards ALL beings, and maybe Earth will have a chance to thrive.