Each year, since 1970, people around the globe have marked Earth Day. While seen by some as a fringe movement, Earth Day awareness and modern environmentalism have led to the environmental protection laws, the use of unleaded fuel in automobiles, and local initiatives to plant trees, clean-up trash spills, and educate communities about the environment.
Earth Day itself was an idea conceived by Wisconsin Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson. Following a 1969 oil spill that marred the Pacific beaches at Santa Barbara, Nelson recruited California Republican Representative Pete McCloskey to serve with him as co-chair of the first Earth Day. The result was that on April 22, 1970, twenty million Americans were involved in educational events and social action directed at protecting the environment. In the last 45 years, Earth Day has continued to grow and its impact widen. While much work needs to be done to protect the habitats of Earth, today environmental concerns are part of our consciousness and consideration in business, planning, zoning, manufacturing, and the long term sustainability of Earth.
As I consider issues of environmentalism and the future sustainability of Earth, it seems to me that there is an fundamental grid-lock involving two outlooks: one is an outlook that places primary value on long-term environmental preservation with the belief that human interaction with the habitats of Earth are leading to the destruction of the planet. The other is the perspective that believes that human beings can adapt and change to circumstances as they arise. Based on this second perspective, it’s deemed reasonable to continue the course of our current resource development based on the assumption that we’ll solve any problems as they arise. These two perspectives are fundamentally in opposition to each other and result in political, economic, and social tension as we humans face the future.
While at some level I value debate, I also have a clear position when it comes to the Earth and environmental protection. As a person of faith, I believe that life itself is a gift. We are given that gift for a short time. During that time, we experience life on Earth and are meant to savor it. The destruction of habitat for profit, which may be a short term convenience for us, is selfish. It prevents future generations from sharing the wonders we experience today: the beauty of glacier covered mountains, the rich color of varied sea life, the amazing diversity of flora and fauna, as well as the nature-made sources to heal our various illnesses and infirmities in addition to the possibility of clean air and water as well as a safe food supply. These are things we do not need to lose if we are simply willing to change.
My grandparents were part of one of the greatest economic changes that occurred on Earth. They lived through the decline of the agricultural age and became part of the industrial age. All four of my grandparents were born to farming families in Eastern Europe. They came to the United States and were part of the emergence of new industry that transformed the world. Just as they were part of a social and economic transformation a bit more than a hundred years ago, we, too have the opportunity to be part of the transformation from an industrial economy to a green economy. In that process, many things will change. Perhaps the most important change will be how we live on this planet. At the same time, I have no doubt that just as people like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller became quite wealthy as “captains of industry,” so too there will be those who profit by the transition to a green economy. Ultimately, the dichotomy between environmentalism and economic growth is a false one. As long as human beings have an enterprising spirit, there will be profit. (And that’s a topic for another day.)
On this Earth Day, it is my hope that we begin to seriously consider what it means to chart a new course for the future based on environmentalism and sustainability. We have it within our grasp to make this transition just as previous generations navigated equally significant transitions. But do we have the will to move ahead to create a new way of living on Earth? That’s the question I ask on this Earth Day.
© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.