To quote Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy being green. Environmentalist is a label that seems to get a bad rap nowadays. When I was born, I entered a world of 3.2 billion people, a number that has more than doubled in my lifetime to a current 7.4 billion. It seems sometimes that that world is closing in, that our natural resources are in great demand, that we are constantly seeking ways to increase our carrying capacity, and that the rich, in their quest for even more riches, seek to influence the world to their benefit at the expense of the rest of us.
I grew up in the 60s and 70s. The growing environmental movement had begun influencing culture and politics. Just before I was born, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had stepped foot on the moon, and the crew of this Apollo 11 mission snapped an iconic shot that has come to be known as Earthrise. Our travels into space allowed us the opportunity to look back upon ourselves from outside, and the world became a smaller, more connected space, swirling clouds visibly crossing man-made boundaries and ocean waves lapping at diverse shores. We were all inhabitants of this big, blue marble, and we were beginning to realize that the damage we inflicted on our planet had repercussions.
During much of the burgeoning environmental movement, I was too young to know of the stories making the news, such as the Cuyahoga River Fire, where pollutants regularly discharged from the steel mills of Cleveland set the river ablaze, or the Santa Barbara oil well blowout of 1969 that spilled three million gallons of oil onto the California coastline. Reaction to those incidents, however, spurred political change. I was fortunate to grow up in a part of the world where regulation of industry prevents, or at least attempts to prevent, polluted rivers and wide-scale environmental damage.
Of course things still happen. Human error contributed to one of the worst oil spills in the U.S. when in 1989 the Exxon Valdez veered off course, struck a reef, and spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound of Alaska, devastating wildlife populations and fisheries.
“Industry’s insistence on regulating the Valdez tanker trade its own way, and government’s incremental accession to industry pressure, had produced a disastrous failure of the system.” Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council
Though it was only the twenty-sixth worst spill in the world at the time, it was the worst in U.S. history. Then came the more recent Deepwater Horizon event, where a BP oil rig explosion dumped 130 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. These events should be at the forefront in our minds when the subject of drilling in the Arctic or the Keystone pipeline come up. When it comes to human caused disasters, it’s not a matter of if, but when. The need to balance our needs for energy and a clean environment has to be be a revolving topic of policy discussion.
These policy changes don’t come easy. The boy pointing out that the emperor has no clothes is often shouted down by the masses who wish to continue the status quo. Such is the case with the scientists in the 40s and 50s who decried the widespread use of DDT due to its widespread deleterious effects on unintended creatures. Beneficial insects were wiped out along with their more damaging counterparts. Large populations of birds were dying, and even our iconic national symbol, the bald eagle, was threatened with extinction due to DDT poisoning. The scientists’ cries were dismissed until 1962, when Rachel Carson released a scientifically researched book, Silent Spring, which threw the chemical companies into a frenzied state of denial and defense of their product. Monsanto even released a parody to her book entitled “The Desolate Year.” Carson got the attention of officials in Washington, however, who looked into her well-documented claims and changed policy to reflect a need for protection from widespread chemical pollutants.
Now scientists are again raising concerns, this time about man-made climate change. It’s not a theory thrown out there to be bandied around. It’s a consensus of 97% of the experts who study this stuff. Yet once again industry officials, with lobbyists and loads of money on their side, seek to shut them down, to silence their voices, to grab the megaphone of conservative talk radio and “debunk” the data, which is clear to anyone with a scientific mind.
This political kickback is a cycle. We should know by now that the scientists are the ones with the clout, the ones with the data, and the ones who don’t have a monetary stake in the outcome. Industry does. It has a huge financial stake in keeping the status quo, to the detriment of all of us. Just look at the pattern.
We are living in an age of corporate greed and worship of the almighty dollar, in an age where lobbyists run roughshod over our democracy. Scientists and stewards of the land have worked hard, often at risk to their personal safety, to advocate for a clean environment. As both Earth Day and election day approach, my hope is that our nation would reflect a different set of values, not of the green of U.S. currency, but of a more natural, oxygenating, life-giving green.
“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.” —President Barack Obama
Inspired by The Daily Post’s prompt: Green