Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Earth Day became a global event

Earth Day began in 1970, when 20 million people across the United States—that's one in ten—rallied for increased protection of the environment.

"It was really an eye-opening experience for me," Gina McCarthy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who was a self-described self-centered teenager during the first Earth Day rallies, told National Geographic. (See pictures: "The First Earth Day—Bell-Bottoms and Gas Masks.")

"Not only were people trying to influence decisions on the Vietnam War," she recalled, "but they were beginning to really focus attention on issues like air pollution, the contamination they were seeing in the land, and the need for federal action."

At the time, she said, the environment was in visible ruins: factories legally spewed black clouds of pollutants into the air and dumped toxic waste into streams.
"I can remember the picture of the Cuyahoga River being on fire," she said, referring to the Ohio waterway choked with debris, oil, sludge, industrial wastes, and sewage that spectacularly erupted in flames on June 22, 1969, and caught the nation's attention.

Although members of the public were increasingly incensed at the lack of legal and regulatory mechanisms to thwart environmental pollution, green issues were absent from the U.S. political agenda.

Not so any longer, naturally. Today's example would be Karl Rove sharing his thoughts on the decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline.  It seems also that the Green Party -- at least in the United States -- missed an opportunity to brand itself as the environmental political movement, and has even allowed the word 'green' to be co-opted by non-political groups like the Sierra Club and others.

In the years since the first Earth Day we've seen a corruption of the terminology by people who have apparently decided that a healthy environment is somehow bad for business.  "Tree-huggers", "whackos", "enviro-Nazis", "dirty effing hippies", etc. all characterize the rhetoric of those who think fracking is safe, that the bees and polar bears aren't in trouble, and that the vanishing glaciers in Glacier National Park is just a phase.

The words of Upton Sinclair have never rung more true (and have never been more applicable than in Texas, where Rick Perry often gets the economic credit for the millions of dinosaurs who died in the Permian Basin hundreds of thousands of years ago)...

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

There are no jobs on a dead planet. I wonder if conservatives, when they express concern for their grandchildren's future in the form of debt and deficits, ever consider that.

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