How many people wait with bated breath for Earth Day to arrive in April of each year? Who knows, but taking a wild guess, probably nobody. Earth Day kinda died out along with the fade-out of the counter-culture of the sixties and seventies. Today, they’re all grandparents and Earth Day has dissipated.
Earth Day was started to provide “support for environmental protection,” and as shall be described, Earth Day came onto the scene like the Big Bang, but ever since, it has been a fizzler, failing to impact, even slightly, the biggest environmental problem facing America, ever.
On April 22, 1970, Earth Day was born, and it generated more than 12,000 Earth Day events all across the country. Two-thirds of the members of Congress made speeches at Earth Day events as millions upon millions of people participated in a celebration of the environment, including liberal Republicans, and most active members of environmental groups were hunters and fishermen. Back then, people mistook “recycling” for bike races, and “organic foods” were believed to come from somewhere exotic in the Far East.
As it happens, Earth Day was born on the doorstep of one the most progressive periods of American history, and Earth Day bolstered Congress to pass: (1) the Clean Air Act of 1970 (2) the Clean Water Act of 1972 (3) Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (4) Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976 (5) Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (6) National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (7) Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (8) Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (9) Endangered Species Act of 1973, most of which became the law of the land under Republican administrations.
Legislation to protect the environment of the 1970s rivaled the social legislation and political reform of the Progressive Era, 1890-1917. At that time, progressives were reacting to the corruption, double-dealing, and brutal inequities of the Gilded Age, when humongous fortunes were made by a few handfuls of people in steel, railroads, chemicals, and oil, when monopolies ran the country, not too dissimilar to China’s uber industrial wealthy class today, making fortunes in glass, steel, and chemicals, on the backs of cheap labor and loose regulations, identical to the U.S. Gilded Age. Some things never change!
Flash forward to 2010, and the biggest, most pressing environmental issue of all-time, global warming, received a chilly DOA reception by Congress as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid admitted that he could not bring a bill to the floor to address the issue, prompting the query: How did a broad-based national coast-to-coast consensus and love-in festival on behalf of the environment, called Earth Day, turn tail and run?
In large measure, the answer is that ‘people power’ moves politics, and back in the day, in the 1960s and 1970s people moved en masse, as super-colossal groupings congealed in the most public of public places to state their case. Politicians saw them and heard them, um-m-m screaming!
For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. moved millions and Congress listened, passing the Civil Rights Act (1964). By way of contrasting the 60s and 70s to today, back then people cared deeply about how their government behaved, and they demonstrated their feelings in the public domain. They were not inhibited and not phlegmatic. The opposite is true today.
“Today’s big environmental groups recruit through direct mail and the media, filling their rosters with millions of people who are happy to click “Like” on clean air [oh, please, who wouldn’t?]. What the groups lack, however, is the Earth Day organizers’ ability to generate thousands of events that people actually attend—the kind of activity that creates pressure on legislators.”1
The broad-based environmental love fests of yesteryear have devolved into “clicks” on PCs, and yesterday’s street warriors, people who suffered bumps, cuts, and bruises, as well as arrests, have passed the baton to a culture of desk-seated robotic-type clickers of “Like” in support of whatever electronically flashes across a screen. It’s so-o-o easy.
The world of public outcry and massive pressure on politicians is largely gone. Legislators no longer experience the histrionics behind the beads of sweat across their foreheads. Rather, they comfortably sit before PCs in air-conditioned surroundings, reading electronic bits, smiling.
The Internet may bring people together with social networking like never before, but it is plastic and metallic, without feeling, without vehemence, kind of like watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof without Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. As it is, the Internet does not force politicians to sweat. Whereas, a screaming crowd right outside a window can give a politician an instantaneous migraine.
Alas, America’s spirit of discord, confrontation, and affray has been compromised as submissiveness overrides outrage at the very moment in historic time when screaming and hollering (and kicking) is necessitated more so than ever before!
Imagine what could of / would have been if only global warming had been the issue of the day in 1968. The likely answer is: Major legislation, including a national directive to convert to renewable energy sources ASAP, setting a D-Day for rejection of fossil fuels. Back then, the streets of Washington, D.C. would have been so filled with so much outrage that Congressional members would have required hours to wade through the mass of people to their offices.
Fast-forward to today with a 1960s counter culture twist, and what do you get? We would no longer be concerned about turning the planet into a fireball. The interstate highways would be lined from coast to coast with wind turbines. Legislation would mandate solar panels on every rooftop in the country. Rather than GM destroying the original electric car, GM would be 100% electric. And, Greenpeace would not be wringing their hands over polar bears stuck on tiny floats of ice.
Today, it is embarrassing to even mention Earth Day in the context of a celebration because it is so hypocritical in the face of so much advance knowledge about how dangerous excessive CO2 is to the planet. Everybody knows all about it.
“Our mass balance analysis shows that net global carbon uptake has increased significantly by about 0.05 billion tonnes of carbon per year and that global carbon uptake doubled, from 2.4 ± 0.8 to 5.0 ± 0.9 billion tonnes per year, between 1960 and 2010,” and “Since 1959, approximately 350,000,000,000 tonnes of carbon have been emitted by humans to the atmosphere.” 2 That’s a lot, too much for the planet to handle. As such, Earth Day, by default, is relegated to commiserating the loss of Mother Earth’s collectiveness. What kind of a celebration is that?
According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), as of March 2014, because of excessive quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) knowingly emitted by humans burning coal, oil, and gas, and also, the quantities of CO2 having doubled on an annualized basis since 1960, the science is clear that coral reefs and the Arctic have already gone beyond tipping points, which is equivalent to the Titanic hitting the iceberg, and which means the oceans are dying and humans on land can expect all hell to break loose. And, it’s most likely irreversible!
As such, since the entire nation has buried its head in the sand regarding the issue of life-threatening self-destruction caused by driving cars and flipping on light switches powered by burning fossil fuels rather than legislating a nationwide renewables program utilizing solar, wind, tides, waves, geothermal, electric vehicles, and hydro, how can Earth Day be observed with a straight face?
After all, get real; the stated energy policy of the United States government today, right now, is “Energy Independence” by way of fracking, which makes a farce of Earth Day. As follows, Congress represents all Americans, and it supports fracking but ignores a nationwide renewable energy program, so voters are the same, and, at the end of the day, probably the XL Keystone Pipeline as well (the world’s filthiest, foulest, dirtiest putrid fossil fuel). Earth Day?
An effective Earth Day celebration today, like the 1960s-70s, would involve coast-to-coast massive, raucous street demonstrations demanding, whilst screaming & hollering & kicking, legislation to convert to renewable energy sources immediately and toss out fracking, and as for the XL Keystone, what can possibly be said beyond the obvious?
Scotland, which is 40% renewables, will be 100% by 2020, without demonstrations.
As such, coining a phrase typical of Jesse Jackson (of the ‘60s counterculture): “How can you celebrate that which you desecrate.”
- Nicholas Lemann, When the Earth Moved, The New Yorker, April 15, 2013. [↩]
- A.P. Ballantyne, et al, Increase in Observed Net Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Land and Oceans During the Past 50 Years, Nature, Vol. 488, Issue 7409, August 1, 2012 [↩]