The 52nd Earth Day is coming up April 22, and it might be a good time to ask what that means to you.
Maybe a lot. Maybe nothing. Bring on those baseball scores!
I remember the first Earth Day in the spring of 1970. It seemed like a big day for soapbox-speaking and Frisbee-tossing on campuses across America. Hippies were in their element.
But beneath the seemingly radicalized frivolity, there was somber fact and hardcore truth: Our planet was being destroyed by our industrial quest for a ‘‘better life.”
Two powerful catalysts for the first Earth Day were Rachel Carson’s 1962 book ‘‘Silent Spring,” about the devastation from pesticides, and Cleveland’s famed Cuyahoga River bursting into flames (some reaching five stories high) the previous June.
Even industrialists have a hard time shrugging off burning rivers.
But ignoring stuff that doesn’t hit us personally, that isn’t in our faces, so to speak — well, we’re experts at kicking those cans down the sidewalk. Such is our evolutionary makeup that we respond to saber-toothed tigers that might pounce but ignore ice ages that will wipe us out entirely.
So it is that more than a half-century after the initial Earth Day, with the event now established globally, we humans still have done almost nothing to change the way we live, the way we exploit, the way we demand.
It’s not really a blame game because all of us are in this together, but there’s plenty of guilt to hang on world leaders. Former President Donald J. Trump, for example, has called climate change a “hoax,” adding that he’s against banning ozone-depleting aerosols because, “I want to use hair spray.”
Former Vice President Al Gore was right when he named his 2006 documentary about global warning “An Inconvenient Truth.” Changing the way we send carbon into the air and chemical waste into the soil and waters is inconvenient.
Mankind’s progress pretty much can be defined by the way we have burned fossil fuels, returning millions of years of stored carbon into the atmosphere fast. Plus, we’ve made things such as PCBs and plastic.
But there are ways out. “The living world,” famed naturalist David Attenborough states, “is essentially solar-powered.”
We’ve got sunlight, folks. We’ve got wind. We’ve got wave action.
As Attenborough adds in his book “A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for Our Future”: “We human beings are, above all, the most astonishing problem solvers.”
But we must getting going. Now. Right now. Most climate scientists say we don’t even have 10 years to stop permanent, irreversible climate damage.
The globe is heating up year after year. Tipping points are everywhere. A few big ones are massive ice sheets melting and the possible collapse of the Atlantic Ocean circulation. A frozen Europe and Miami underwater finally might get our attention.
But it’s all so inconvenient. Good things are often hard to achieve, true. But not impossible.
You want urgent, the carrot for total effort? Try this: According to a just-released U.N. climate report, we are “firmly on track toward an unlivable world.”
Unlivable means, like, you can’t live here anymore. Or are you planning on heading to Mars with Elon Musk?
As an old boy, I likely won’t be around to see the potential environmental disaster, but it’s not a gift I want to bequeath to my children or their children. Or anybody’s offspring.
Yet global methane emissions reached a record high for the second consecutive year in 2021. Our leaders and giant corporations aren’t doing squat, just dog-paddling and empty promises.
I remember a late-summer day at Wrigley Field maybe 30 years ago. A beautiful, sunny, blue-sky day. The air suddenly was filled with monarch butterflies, which I love. Who doesn’t love monarchs?
I don’t know how many people at that Cubs game noticed the butterflies on a brief stopover in their incredible migratory journey to Mexico. But I saw them. And it thrilled me. It did my heart good to see the natural world in order, to know it carried on nicely while I and others were diverted by a sporting event.
But, of course, monarchs are threatened now, as are so many living creatures. As are we.
I’d like to think those sunny days can return. Domed stadiums might be fine for sports, but living in a domed world, separated from nature, with the outside flooded or on fire? No, thank you.
Let’s roll, people.