Posted by: Green Knight | April 22, 2012

43 and counting

I observed the original Earth Day in 1970, and have been observing it ever since, though it was largely forgotten until the 20th anniversary in 1990, when I put together a booth for the state environmental agency I worked for at the time. Many things have changed since 1970; we got the EPA and OSHA, and most of our environmental laws. Leading up to April 22nd, 1970, we saw the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, catch fire and burn for three days; not the first time that body of water had burned, either. We saw the “blowout at Platform A,” an artesian oil spill at a drilling platform off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA, that led to the PBS special, “Black Tide.” We saw Lake Erie almost dead from water pollution, with a great image of a big concrete pipe discharging multicolored waste into that lake on the cover of Time magazine.

But what’s happened since? The smog in LA and San Jose is a lot better, and general water quality is improved, but now we have smog and water pollution from hydrofracking. Species are declining at an alarming rate, to the extent that it’s being called the sixth mass extinction in the earth’s history. We had the Exxon Valdez and the BP spill in the Gulf. We phased out CFCs and the ozone layer is reestablishing itself, but our energy usage is heating us up when we really should be heading into another ice age. I’m undecided on the benefits of genetically-engineered crops, but I don’t like the idea of big corporations patenting seeds (or human DNA, for that matter).

The late Carl Sagan, and the late Jacob Bronowski, two of my science heroes, both thought that we can only solve our technologically-created problems with more technology (Carl especially), and I’m inclined to agree, but the science has to keep pace with, and ideally ahead of, the destruction. Both gentlemen also stressed the need to keep a humanistic approach, not in the sense of humans vs. the environment, but in the sense of “why are we doing this?” It’s all well and good to come up with groovy things in the lab, but just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we SHOULD. We tend to rush to production before we study the potential impacts.

I’m currently reading a book on the history of DDT, and another one on the history of Agent Orange. The reactionaries who like to spout the dogma that Rachel Carson “killed more people than Hitler,” referring to the DDT ban and malaria, fail to realize that DDT was only banned from domestic use, and was still allowed for public health purposes overseas, i.e., killing mosquitoes worldwide. Rachel only ever suggested a ban on agricultural use. Also, mosquitoes were already becoming resistant to DDT as early as 1947. Silent Spring didn’t come out until 1962, and the ban didn’t happen until 1972. People who find it more convenient to use catchphrases thought up by others, instead of bothering to read and think for themselves, deserve the type of governance they end up with.

So, I recommend independent thought and research. Humans are traditionally lazy, and wait for a crisis to develop, then react. The testament to our intelligence is that we’ve been pretty good at last-minute solutions, because we’re still here. However, the challenges we face now are much huger than past ones. Do your own independent inquiry, participate, and vote, eh? Happy Earth Day.

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Responses

  1. Well said! I was just a child when the DDT debate was going on. This makes me want to learn more about what really happened and how we can move forward.

    • The book I’m halfway through, which is impartial and well-written except for a few typos, is “DDT & the American Century” by David Kinkela, 2011.

    • When I was a state hazardous waste inspector in St. Louis, we had an “amnesty day” for household hazardous waste to be brought in down in southeast Missouri, and a farmer brought in a 55-gallon drum of DDT, which was a surprise, since it had been off the market for 16 years! A couple of years later I got a call from a guy who was cleaning out his recently-deceased grandmother’s house, and found a gallon glass jug of the stuff in the garage. It’s still around here & there, folks.

  2. Reblogged this on cagefreeworld and commented:
    Wake up . . . Please . . .

  3. Yes….well said…I was there, too. And I’ve spent the last 40 years wondering where everyone went. I even repurchased an old copy of Silent Spring last year In an effort to retrace the steps. Thank you for your blog! I’m new blogger so I’ll be stumbling around a bit, but I’ll follow and repost!

    • I even still had a copy of “The Environmental Handbook,” from 1969, until recently. It was a collection of essays and articles, and sort of a primer for the first Earth Day. Need to find another copy.

      • Bet that’s an interesting read all these years later!


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