With a name that suggests it has, um, global appeal, Earth Day continues to grow in significance.
The increasingly observable effects of climate change, combined with the Environmental Protection Agency’s work to undermine its own mission, have drawn renewed attention to environmental issues. So, as we recognize Earth Day today, we seize the opportunity to reinforce the need for taking care of the planet. After all, it is the only one we have.
Earth Day was founded in 1970 as an environmental teach-in. It since has grown to be recognized in nearly 200 nations each April 22, providing a reminder of issues that threaten the health of the planet and the creatures that inhabit it.
Those issues seemed nearly insurmountable in the early 1970s. As numerous documentaries and photo essays demonstrate, American cities were fouled by smog that obscured skylines and by water pollution that rendered rivers unnavigable (think modern-day Beijing). Humans were just beginning to pay attention to environmental issues, and President Richard Nixon — never a proponent of big government — signed the EPA into existence in 1970.
Along the way, a public service announcement that ran frequently on televisions throughout that decade (tinyurl.com/cye6k5l) drove home the environmental crisis. With a narrator intoning in a baritone voice that, “people start pollution; people can stop it,” a single tear from a Native American (actually an Italian-American actor in traditional Native American garb) galvanized a generation’s attention to the landscape around it.
All of that makes current opposition to environmental protections particularly disconcerting. There is a school of thought — echoed by President Trump and, inexplicably, the administrator of the EPA — that downplays the threat of climate change. An examination of various studies has concluded that 97 percent of climate scientists believe human activity has contributed to climate change, with carbon emissions playing a role in gradually warming the planet. But naysayers cling to the slivers of evidence that support their view that either climate change is a hoax or that humans can do little about it.
Science suggests otherwise. And while science is never really “settled” and new research continually advances the conversation, it is important that we pay heed to the best available information. The notion that the climate is changing is reinforced by increasingly frequent and increasingly extreme wildfires and hurricanes, rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers and other threats.
The United States long has been a leader in scientific research, but an inexplicable recent movement toward ignoring that research promises to isolate this nation while the rest of the world makes progress. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a global accord to combat climate change, has left the United States as the only nation to reject the deal.
Meanwhile, the EPA under Scott Pruitt has abdicated its stated mission “to protect human health and the environment.” The agency has pulled back on enforcement of air pollution standards, acquiescing to the desires of polluting industries. Pruitt also has targeted regulations regarding automobile emissions, the storage of chemicals and the safety of pesticides. It is predictable that the environment could come under attack from certain industries; it is unconscionable that it would face attack from the EPA.
All of that deserves examination on this, the 49th Earth Day, a celebration of the one thing that ties us all together.