Earth Day 2010 will be celebrated in a few days. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970. I was in the U.S. Army on that date and, to be honest, I don’t remember a thing about that event. I’m not all that big on celebratory days anyway. But it is noteworthy that this event has been around for 40 years now, and it has had a positive effect. Environmental legislation was passed, awareness was raised, and an annual remembrance was institutionalized. The following excerpt was copied from Wikipedia:
“Earth Day proved popular in the United States and around the world. The first Earth Day had participants and celebrants in two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. More importantly, it brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform."
Senator Gaylord Nelson, principal founder of the event, stated that Earth Day "worked" because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. 20 million demonstrators and thousands of schools and local communities participated. He directly credited the first Earth Day with persuading U.S. politicians that environmental legislation had a substantial, lasting constituency. Many important laws were passed by the Congress in the wake of the 1970 Earth Day, including the Clean Air Act, laws to protect drinking water, wild lands and the ocean, and the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Earth Day is now observed in 175 countries, and coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, according to whom Earth Day is now the “largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a half billion people every year. Environmental groups have sought to make Earth Day into a day of action which changes human behavior and provokes policy changes.”
But I keep thinking about the resources needed to really clean up planet earth, to protect biodiversity, and to reduce the probable impacts of global climate change. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the Iraq war, and committed hundreds of thousands of people to that effort. The irony is that, in my opinion, we have done this primarily to try to protect the flow of inexpensive oil. If successful (jury is still out), we will use more oil because it is cheap, and contribute more to the primary global environmental disaster facing us today—climate change. So, in effect, we are spending tax dollars to encourage the planet to be degraded faster. What is wrong with this picture?
As usual, humans are attempting to maximize short-term benefits at the expense of long-term costs, something I have written about several times. We simply were not selected to worry about events that might occur years in the future. So on it goes. At least, Earth Day encourages humans to think about the future, if only for a few hours.