Opinion

VIEWPOINT | What are your plans for celebrating Earth Day?

By KIM DRURY

The first Earth Day in 1970 was quite a historical phenomenon.

Across the country, millions of people attended tens of thousands of community events, school and college teach-ins, all focused on putting the environment on the political map. More than a million people streamed into Central Park to attend their first ever eco-fair. And imagine this: Congress took the day off so that senators and representatives could get back to their home states and participate in that historical day’s events. American Heritage magazine called it “one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy.”

Today, more than four decades later, it is hard to imagine that level of national excitement and focus on the environment. But imagine what it was like in those days:

Ohio’s Cuyahoga River erupted in fire — again. DDT showed up in 98 percent of fresh water samples, with levels up to nine times the federal limit, and 30 percent of drinking water samples had chemicals exceeding national health standards.

Air pollution was sickening and killing people. One 1963 air pollution event in New York City killed 405 people. Lead was still in gasoline and it was often dark by 11 a.m. in Pittsburg due to thick smog.

Real change happened as a result of all that civic activism in 1970. Congress acted. New and stronger rules were adopted to clean up our air and water, to protect endangered species and to create the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

People who spoke up made a difference here in Washington, too. Major oil spills in Puget Sound have been prevented, old-growth forests and farmland have been preserved, some salmon runs have been boosted and the use of pesticides has been cut way back. And, spurred by a statewide citizens’ initiative, our electric utilities are investing in energy efficiency and new renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.

Which leads back to the question: what are your plans for Earth Day 2014?

The defining issue today, of course, is climate change. And, of course, it’s not just an environmental issue. It’s an issue of social justice, food security, global economics, generational equity and an issue that the Pentagon recognizes as a major national security threat.

It’s an issue that is already changing our world — the one here on the Salish Sea. Already the shellfish industry is suffering major losses due to ocean acidification. And within 10 years we will see an average temperature increase of two degrees Fahrenheit. There is much more — the University of Washington’s Climate Impact Group is an excellent resource on local impacts.

This Earth Day we must make a difference. We need to talk to each other. We need to press our elected officials, our education, religious, community and business leaders, our bankers, realtors and insurance brokers about climate change. We need to speak up now about the need to reduce climate pollution and plan responsibly for changes in our environment that are now inevitable.

In my mind, we who talk about climate change and press for actions to reduce climate pollution are the optimists because we believe we can make a difference. It’s not too late, but it’s certainly not too early.

 

Kim Drury has over 30 years experience working on energy, water and climate issues in the private, public and non-profit sectors.

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