Earth Day 50th Anniversary
Apollo 8 Earthrise (Photo: NASA)
By Robert Bernstein
We are facing a crisis that could bankrupt the world economy. Yet almost no money is being allocated by our government to solve it.
What about the multi-trillion dollar stimulus package? Doesn't that count? We saw the same response to the 2008 financial crisis. Well, that is not the crisis I am talking about.
The climate crisis has been predicted for decades. I first talked about it back in 1981, almost 40 years ago. Why is it that some crises are more equal than others?
Imagine if we gave the same amount of money to the climate crisis that we have given to the COVID-19 crisis and to the 2008 financial crisis?
If we spent trillions of dollars investing in sustainable transportation, sustainable energy and sustainable agriculture it would be a win-win. It would be an investment that would pay itself back many times over.
April 22, 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the original Earth Day. Many events and actions led to that first Earth Day. Including the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring". And the famous Apollo 8 Earthrise photo (shown above).
And most notably and personally for us, the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill.
What do we have to show for it?
On the plus side, there have been achievements worth appreciating. Here is a partial list:
- 1970: The National Environmental Policy Act which ensures that environmental factors are weighted equally when compared to other factors in the decision making process undertaken by federal agencies and establishes a national environmental policy.
- 1972: The Clean Water Act
- 1972: Banning of DDT
- 1972: Marine Mammal Protection Act
5. 1973: Endangered Species Act
6. 1980: Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act
7. 1980: The Superfund Act – Actually called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act – to investigate and clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances.
11. 1990: Acid Rain amendments to the Clean Air Act
12. 1995: Wolves are restored to Yellowstone National Park
14) 1996: Leaded gasoline banned
15) 1997: Kyoto Protocol on the climate crisis
16) 2006: Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" raises climate crisis awareness
17) 2008: The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opens deep inside an Arctic mountain.
18) 2015: Paris Climate Agreement
It is worth pausing to appreciate these achievements. Not to rest on our laurels. But to give us inspiration that positive change is possible and that we can continue the struggle.
It is easy to get overwhelmed with negative information and to feel it is all hopeless and not even worth trying.
That attitude can even lead to an extreme version of Deep Ecology that sees humans as a blight on an otherwise ideal planet. I do not see things that way.
As a child I was inspired by the quest to "seek out new life and new civilizations" in the visionary words of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry. With so many billions of stars in our Milky Way galaxy it seemed almost certain that we would soon be making contact with such beings. Ideally, with more advanced beings who could teach us valuable lessons to enrich our lives and save us from causing unnecessary harm.
In 1961 Dr Frank Drake proposed his famous Drake Equation as a way to stimulate rational discussion of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Many of the numbers in his equation are still unknown. But recent planetary surveys indicate that there probably are hundreds of millions of rocky Earth-like planets in our galaxy.
And yet we have not been receiving the equivalent of old "I Love Lucy" TV broadcasts from any of them. Physicist Enrico Fermi reputedly said back in 1950 "But where is everybody?" Fermi noted that given the great age of the galaxy, even one civilization should have been able to settle all over the galaxy in a matter of a million years or so. A blink of an eye on the galactic calendar.
Perhaps we really are as good as it gets? Instead of putting ourselves down all the time and extolling the nobility of other species, perhaps we would do better to recognize how precious we are as a species. Perhaps this is a better starting point for recognizing how precious every other species is as well.
Humans are capable of great generosity. Of great creativity. And of tireless work to achieve visionary projects on a grand scale.
In the April 19, 2020 New York Times she gave us this challenge:
"We need leaders who are fit to handle the crises we face, instead of hoping for problems small enough to fit the leaders we have."
I would go one step further: We need leaders who are fit to envision the future we want to inhabit. Instead of inhabiting a world small enough to fit the limited imaginations of the leaders we have.
There is no shortage of human and material and economic resources to take us to a bright sustainable future. We just need the vision, the will and the political mobilization to make it happen.
Santa Barbara Earth Day will be held as a Virtual Event starting at Noon on April 22. Please go to https://sbearthday.org/ to be a part of this event!