22 Apr 2014
Happy Earth Day 44. We have come a long way from the challenges and problems that led to the first Earth Day – a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California; the dead zone in Lake Erie; smog in Los Angeles and burning rivers in the Midwest.
The first Earth Day led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of environmental laws like the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. As the EPA and its state counterparts have continued to regulate, there has been a backlash of business and media outcry which certainly impacts the public’s views.
The challenges we face today are more complex and likely more daunting than those of 44 years ago. We still have oil spills, but they are from rail cars, pipelines, larger ships and deeper wells. Lake Erie and many other bodies of water are still challenged by more diffuse and “below the radar” sources of contamination. While reducing the impacts of asbestos, lead and NOx from our daily lives, and healing the ozone hole, we now face questions regarding greenhouse gasses, smog impacts from and in China unlike anything LA ever faced, and the challenges and benefits posed by fracking.
Once the “low hanging fruit” of easy cleanups were “picked,” what we were left with was less shocking or engaging than dead fish and burning rivers. Consequently, there’s much more debate about the best way to address them or whether they need to be addressed at all. The issues are just as important – maybe more so, but it’s unlikely that our polarized nation would agree on what changes would be best, if any.