Earth Day, today. Forty years ago, on April 22nd, 1970, twenty million Americans demonstrated to express concern about the despoiling of our air and water. Conditions were so bad at that time, that the Cuyahoga River in Ohio actually caught fire in 1969. Smog produced by millions of cars burning leaded gasoline hung like gray death over American cities.
I remember passing through Riverside, California, with my family sometime in the late 60s. Riverside is located west of Los Angeles, surrounded by mountains and hills. A dense, choking gray presence hung in the lifeless air. It was as if the city were enshrouded in a thick fog, obscuring vision beyond a certain distance. But the thickness of the air was not due to vaporous water that would burn away with the sun. It was smog. The breeze from the Pacific was strong that day and all the smog produced by drivers in Los Angeles, had blown inland, to Riverside, where it was trapped by the surrounding highland. I had never seen anything like it before (nor since) and it had a profound effect on me.
The first Earth Day started something, though. No one can deny that environmental regulations and public awareness have resulted in vast improvements to water and air quality here in the United States.
But, although I don't want to rain on the parade, I'm at least half-convinced that all our efforts are in vain, that humanity may have already passed the point of no return, environmentally. The huge environmental crises that are looming before humanity are so vast and perplexing, and are further complicated by the willful ignorance of people who would rather not be bothered, that I have trouble believing humanity can take the steps necessary to reverse the tide.
Global warming, depletion of water resources, deforestation, and the unprecedented rate of extinction of non-human species seem to indicate that Earth is getting ready for another Big TransitionTM. Even to slow the progress of these destructive trends would take an unprecedented level of cooperation on a global scale. I'm not sure human beings are capable of it.
One would think that preserving the Earth, the one shared endowment of every single human being, would be of utmost importance to everyone. And I think every human being probably does know that, at least at some level. The problem is that human institutions, which often have interests that are in opposition to the interests of human individuals, wield inordinate power. What is good for a corporation is not necessarily good for a human being. (And I don't care what the Supreme Court has to say about it.)
Nonetheless, it is my duty to keep trying and to keep hoping. So, I do my best to curtail my driving. I have a relatively efficient car (~35 miles per gallon). I keep the thermostat in my home at 62 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. I recycle; I try to buy locally-produced food. I vote green.
In the end, it may not be enough. But, like I said, it's my duty.
Happy Earth Day!