I was recently sharing dinner with friends when one of them asked for my thoughts about the kind of planet we were passing on to our children and grandchildren. The question was asked within the context of a discussion on climate change, and the recent poll findings that over 70% of us now believe in climate change while almost that same number would not commit to spending $10 a month toward addressing it.
I reviewed that within my 80 years of life I remembered the end of WWII, the funerals of young men who were killed in Korea, my participation in anti-Vietnam war activities, marching in the first civil rights parade in Racine, Wis., the Army-McCarthy hearings, the Watergate hearings, the North Koreans capturing the USS Pueblo, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and then beginning in late January 1969, a huge crack in the Santa Barbara Channel that was the result of drilling for oil. From that crack gushed 3 million tons of crude oil into the water, forming black waves that struck the Southern California coastline. Wave after wave of black goo washed upon beaches in an eerie silence, carrying with them various sea animals and seabirds drowning in oil. Across America, a level of frustration about what we were doing to our environment finally seemed to match the size of that huge crack in the channel bed.
It was that memorable disaster that would mark the beginnings of the environmental movement. And so it was that just over a year later, on April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans (out of 205 million) gathered across the country to raise awareness for environmental issues. It was on that day (with predominant founding help from Wisconsin's Sen. Gaylord Nelson) that Earth Day was born.
Next year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and many memorable and tragic events, including environmental catastrophes, have continued to occur. The point I was seeking to make to that friend was that over time, people (both good and bad) make decisions (both good and bad) that affect the rest of us for better or worse. But tyrants die, bad leaders may not be re-elected, and justice occasionally brings about punishment for the guilty. It happens, keeps happening, and is happening in our day. But there is one ingredient in these days that seems to be coming to a frightening conclusion. A conclusion, should it occur, that will doom many of those who come after us.
That ingredient is summarized in the many decisions made since the industrial revolution to use fossil fuels to improve the quality of our lives. The byproduct of those many decisions, including our own, while unknown for many years and ignored for many other years, is the slow and continuing death of our planet. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is only a summary of increasingly overwhelming scientific evidence. Bad leaders come and go, but a dead planet cannot sustain life.
Please consider again, on this 49th year of celebrating Earth Day, making only decisions that will enhance the sustainability of our small and shared planet. By doing so, you can be assured that decisions made for the good of our planet will also be good for its people. Happy Earth Day 2019.