This Saturday, April 22, will mark the 53rd anniversary of Earth Day, the movement that is credited with bringing the issue of environmentalism into the forefront of public thought and opinion.
To be sure, many of the objectives of the environmental movement since that first Earth Day have been achieved. Compared to 1970, our air and water are cleaner. The haze of smog that hung over our major cities each and every day is not as bad as it was 50 years ago and here in the Boston area, Boston Harbor is an example of the progress that has been attained in cleaning up our waterways.
But despite the visible progress we have made, the overall health of our planet unquestionably is far worse than it was five decades ago. “Climate change” and “global warming” were terms that were unheard of then, but now we know that just about everything we do –driving our cars, heating our homes, producing the food we eat, and making just about everything with plastics — releases greenhouse gases and other chemicals that are altering our environment with grave consequences for life on the planet.
The wild weather recently in Ft. Lauderdale, in which that city was inundated by 20 inches of rain that brought the city to a standstill, was deemed a “1000-year event” by the National Weather Service.
But the reality is that in 2023, 1000-year events are occurring somewhere every year, to say nothing of 100-year events that are happening almost every month.
The future reality is that carbon emissions will not be coming down anytime soon and even if they do, there is so much heat trapped in our oceans and in the atmosphere that it may be too late to stop the dreaded feedback loop that will accelerate climate change.
Yes, we’re old enough to remember the hoopla that accompanied the first Earth Day, a movement that was catalyzed when a river in Cleveland that essentially was a toxic cesspool caught fire when a spark from the shore ignited the volatile chemicals in the river.
Back in those days, we had hope that things would be better.
We never imagined that five decades later, the degradation of our environment would pose an existential threat to life and civilization as we know it — but that’s the reality we are confronting in 2023.