- Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 05:00
- Published on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 05:00
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Those of us who have been alive since the 1960s have experienced something that the great scientists and explorers in our world’s history could have only imagined. Thanks to the advances in space exploration, we have seen images of our planet as viewed from beyond our world. We have seen images of Earth from our moon, and we have, quite literally, seen our planet in the rear view mirror of probes bound for the distant reaches of our solar system. What that perspective has taught us is that our planet, as majestic and remarkable as it is, is still just a little dot in space.
This is more than just an interesting factoid. This view of Earth, to anyone who takes a good close look, is a reminder of just how fragile, how little, and how delicate our planet really is. We may think it’s indestructible, we sure treat it that way, but when viewed from far away its surprisingly small and vulnerable.
You would think this realization would only reinforce a passion on the part of those of us inhabiting the planet to protect it. Knowing that its ecosystems are fragile, that there are limits to its ability to process pollutants or to deal with the impact of our industry, that we would readily and cooperatively want to do our best to protect it. But, this, it seems, is far from the case,
Back in 1970, the junior senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, riding a wave of concern about pollution and hazards to the environment, asked people on April 22 to observe Earth Day. It was a heady time. President Nixon, yes, a Republican, and a surprisingly enthusiastic environmentalist, had created the Environmental Protection Agency, and had enthusiastically signed the Clear Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Democrats and Republicans both seemed committed to a new approach to managing our relationship with our environment.
But that was 40 years ago. And yes, we’ve made progress, but this Earth Day there is probably more controversy than ever about the state of our planet. And unfortunately, because of this raucous debate, even the most logical steps to protect our fragile little dot in space are languishing. On the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, the environmental report card isn’t good.
Global warming is more hotly debated (forgive the pun) than ever. But, somehow, I think that controversy misses the point. The growing presence of carbon in the atmosphere is a potential hazard. And yes, I personally think we need to take vigorous steps, now, today, to deal with it. But, let’s say, you don’t buy that argument. You think it’s all overblown. My reaction is OK, fine. Let’s take that the carbon issue out of the equation. Let’s be more basic than that. What’s wrong with developing new energy technologies that are cleaner and more efficient? And what’s more, whether you buy the carbon argument or not, burning fossil fuels still causes dangerous pollution. That, at the very least, is something everyone agrees on. And oh yes, don’t forget, we get most of our oil from people who despise us. That’s enough of a case for me to support investing in nuclear power technology, smart grids, electric cars, bio fuels, solar technology and wind power generation. In other words, I don’t think we should be having this argument at all.
We are that little dot in space. And whether it’s the grievous condition of the Bay, pesticides in our waterways killing all sorts of wildlife, or air pollution — no matter what your views on global warming — we aren’t doing a particularly good job of taking care of our little planet. We can and must do better. Forty years on, the message of Earth Day is simple: We have to stop arguing and get to work before it’s too late.