EARTH DAY - Golden Anniversity

April 1, 2020

What were you doing April 22, 1970?   It was a perfect spring day in my south-central Illinois hometown.  I was a high school senior, the music was great, neither social media nor the 24-hour news cycle existed, the Vietnam War was still raging and Richard Milhous Nixon was president.  I recall my classmates and I spent time that day in Mr. Baird's sociology class discussing Earth Day, because Wednesday April 22, 1970 was the first.  On January 1, 1970, the Natural Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) became law and later that year President Nixon created a new federal department (the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency) to help us deal with pollution.  Nixon is remembered mostly for the Watergate scandal, but he did some good things.  Now, 50 years later, Earth Day has become a tradition--a celebration around the country and worldwide--thanks to the visionary idea by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson.  Notice I did not label him with a letter (i.e., a political consonant).

 

So, are we better off because of Earth Day and the EPA?  Definitely, but . . ..  We are more aware of environmental issues, and have been able to address some of the worst symptoms--human caused ground, air and water pollution as well as the destruction of natural habitat and the corresponding impact on wildlife, although the current administration and many of its supports have different ideas, and we have allowed agrochemical corporation undue influence in both the EPA and USDA.  What we have been less successful at is dealing with the root cause--us.  Human overpopulation and contributing behavior.  In April 1970 the world population was about 3.6 billion.  Now fifty years later the total is about 7.6 billion, and growing.  Yes, we have been able to lower the growth rate (the percentage, in most countries) but because we allowed the base number to get so large, and due to what Einstein called the most powerful force in the universe (the power of compounding), the net daily increase currently exceeds 200,000!  That equates to a city the size of greater Indianapolis every ten days, non-stop.  As Walt Kelly's famous Pogo cartoon (pictured above) noted, "WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US."  Unfortunately, too many of US now use the pronoun THEM.

 

Like it or not, overpopulation fits the textbook definition of pollution, "the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful effects."  I edited and published a book entitled Biological Pollution three decades ago.  It dealt with invasive exotic organisms.  We qualify.

 

So why don't we address the cause(s) of pollution?  Allow me to paraphrase Cassius' comment from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar--the fault, my dear earthlings, is simple:  IGNORANCE, BLAME AVOIDANCE, GREED, FEAR, ANTHROPOCENTRISM and GOVERNMENTAL INCOMPETENCE.

 

AFTERWORD - The Cause - Effect relationship was an important topic in my classroom.  I always endeavored to explain to my students that unless one deals with the actual cause (e.g., the influenza virus) the effect/the symptoms (e.g., fever, chills and sometimes death) cannot be avoided, and attempting to alleviate the symptoms DOES NOT necessarily address the cause.  Moreover, the more fuel (timber or people) the bigger the "fire" once the burning starts, and there will always be disease (the burn).  Yet by intellect and luck we can sometimes avoid the scrimmage, but this is a battle that will happen.  It is our history--exacerbated by overpopulation and human behavior.

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