(From the diaries -- kos
Today is the 35th anniversary of Earth Day. Every year, I greet this day with mixed feelings.
Although that first Earth Day focused needed attention on the world's environmental troubles, it was also a diversion. Just a week after Earth Day, on April 29, the U.S. sent troops into Cambodia and, within three weeks, six students had been killed during protests at Kent State and Jackson State universities. Then, too, while millions joined in Earth Day activities, the event was peppered with corporate sponsors, many of whom were more interested in making a public relations coup than anything substantively ecological. Indeed, some corporate participants took a downright hostile tone when it was pointed out that something engaged in by them might be environmentally destructive.
Nonetheless, for a time, because Richard Nixon needed something positive to balance his administration's disastrous continuation of the war in Southeast Asia and because he was pressured by Democrats like Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson and members of his own party, quite a number of successful environmental initiatives were undertaken, including the creation of the EPA and legislation on clean water and clean air.
Subsequent Earth Days drew fewer and fewer participants, but, no matter, because for years the U.S. led the world in aggressively tackling environmental challenges. Along came Ronald Reagan, a man whose twisted views of something as obvious as old growth forest preservation left environmentalists of all stripes aghast: "A tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?" Although expressed less moronically, he delivered similar views (and policies) regarding public lands, pollution, the ozone hole, organic farming, global warming and advocates of renewable power sources and conservation, us laughable morons who wanted everyone to "freeze to death in the dark."
Naturally, Reagan wasn't just talking for himself. Difficulties in foreign policy, a Democratic congressional majority and the implosion of Anne Gorsuch Burford's wild reign at EPA and Jim Watt's at the Department of Interior weakened the Gipper's ability to do the bidding of the eco-plunderers. Nonetheless, Executive Order 12291 did enough damage on its own. Issued in 1981, it required a cost-benefit analysis of all government rules (including environmental) and a requirement that only least-cost regulations could be adopted even if other proposals would provide greater benefits. About the only positive thing Reagan did for the environment was add millions of acres to the nation's protected Wilderness. That, and the fact he reinvigorated environmentalism by being so much against it.
When the 20th anniversary of Earth Day came around, it gave environmental advocates a public opportunity to breathe new life into their efforts. For the first time in years, events were well-attended and garnered some decent attention from the megamedia. In fact, within a few months of Earth Day 1990, hundreds of newspapers had reassigned reporters to the eco-beat, and dozens of them started whole sections devoted to environmental issues.
Environmental organizations noted a spurt in financial contributions and memberships.
Media interest didn't last long. The newspaper reporters went back to covering what color 9th graders think is coolest. Several of the flashy new eco-magazines that started up after Earth Day struggled and collapsed. And despite high hopes - and better appointments - Clinton's environmental record turned out to be (I'm in a charitable mood) mediocre. Although he kept Congress from gouging deeper into EPA funding, across a wide range of environmental issues, especially energy, he was Mr. Nowhere Man. But you never caught him saying a tree is a tree.
After 51 months of Dubyanocchio, Clinton looks almost green.
I'd list the bad things Bush has done or plans to do when it comes to the environment, but this Diary would run on and on. Even if I limited myself to just the awful, or the terrible, or the dreadful, even just insanely foolish, I'd be here until Earth Day 36. Whether it's forest policy, mining policy, energy policy, public lands policy, climate policy, pollution policy or transportation policy, the administration can be counted on to do the wrong thing. Today, however, Bush will speak as if he were the environment's best friend.
The painfully retrograde energy bill the House passed yesterday - with a lot of Democrats voting "aye" who shouldn't have - is another example of the current rightwing view that the environment is just a backdrop instead of the whole enchilada.
Whenever I get into this conversation with my friends, we all fervently agree that without an eco-friendly governmental policy - worldwide - the long-term future of human beings (and other large mammals) on this planet will be grim. But then comes equally fervent disagreement over how much each individual can or should do in the absence of government policy. I don't mean whether we can all be like Goldman Environmental Prize winner Father José Andrés Tamayo Cortez - obviously not.
But what should we do when it comes to more mundane matters? Use public transportation more often? Stop eating meat grown with fossil water and over-grazed public lands? Buy a composting toilet? Opt off the grid until hydrocarbons are out of the electricity-generating biz? Help kill the pesticide industry by spending more for organic lettuce and strawberries? Keep the air-conditioning off until room temperature hits 80? Light the house with compact fluorescent lights even though they're ugly in some fixtures? Return that low-flow showerhead we yanked off one frosty morning? Remodel solely with often pricey green materials?
It's a prodigious list of the big and the tiny, and after half an hour of discussion, the eyes of the SUV owners have narrowed into slits, a couple of vegans are having it out with the carnivores, and the sole owner of solar roof panels has tipped his nose way up into the air.
So, what have you done to make your personal life more environmentally sound? Be honest. Don't tell us you bike 10 miles to work if you're commuting in what Devilstower christened the "Chevy Subdivision."
Take the poll.
[Cross posted at The Next Hurrah.]
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