Green groups are expressing full-throated support for demonstrators protesting the killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis police custody - even as they struggle with their own long-standing issues with addressing racial inequality and a lack of diversity in their ranks.
Having been shaken to our collective core by the COVID19 pandemic, can we muster the will to make major changes in how we rebuild our systems, to truly transform how we function as a society for the betterment of Earth and her inhabitants?
Suppose they gave an Earth Day and nobody came?
The Ghost of Earth Day Past<p>The 1990 event followed a string of environmental disasters in the 1980's. </p><p>They included the Bhopal, India, chemical disaster in 1984; the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl two years later; the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole; the first widely-reported concern about climate change in 1988; medical waste washing up on popular beaches in New Jersey; and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.</p><p>The airwaves were filled with messages of empathy from industry, many of them from some of the most notorious corporate polluters, assuring Mother Earth that they're on her side. </p><p>The term "greenwashing," credited to <a href="https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-642-28036-8_104" target="_blank">environmentalist Jay Westerveld</a>, caught on as petrochemical companies publicly wrapped themselves in the green flag while quietly continuing to lobby against environmental regulation, and while planting the seeds for a durable cottage industry in climate denial.</p><p>Worldwide rallies drew millions and celebrities virtually climbed all over each other in support of a cause whose time has come. </p><p>But alas, just like Britney Spears or Justin Bieber, Earth Day peaked at age 20.</p>
Earth Day 1990 at Charles River Esplanade in Boston, Massachusetts. (Credit: Paul-W/flickr)
The Ghost of Earth Day Present<p>This year, plans for more big crowds on the Day's silver anniversary ran directly into COVID-19. </p><p>It was as if Earth Day had entered the Witness Protection Program.</p><p>NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN all ran obligatory Earth Day items with an inevitable tie to COVID-19 by including video of bears, coyotes, and other critters moving in on deserted city streets. </p><p>All four networks ran the same video of goats wandering through a desolate Welsh town (Special shout-out to NBC, who struck a special blow for East Coast Urban Elite Media Bias by <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/as-world-marks-earth-day-indoors-a-message-of-hope-from-outside-82424389719" target="_blank">identifying the goats as "sheep."</a>)</p><p>A scan of the program schedules for cable and broadcast TV shows for April 22 include a couple of environment-themed offerings on the National Geographic Channel, but that's about it. </p><p>The impact statement? Environmental advocacy's highest-profile event was a dud.</p><p>There were a few glimmers on the broadcast news front. NBC used the day to announce its special "Climate Team," with the venerable Al Roker promising "even more" climate coverage. A useful perspective on "even more" comes in the form of multiple media content surveys that show the climate crisis pulling less airtime than any Kardashian. </p><p>CNN aired a superb ninety-minute climate special Saturday night. "Chief Climate Correspondent" Bill Weir has managed to find airtime even amid the single-minded coverage of the pandemic. Good for him. </p>
The Ghost of Earth Day Future<p>Let's spitball a little bit about the 100<sup>th</sup> Anniversary of Earth Day in 2070, when I will be 113 years old. </p><p>A mega-event on the National Mall might have another threat by then. <a href="https://sealevel.climatecentral.org/research/reports/washington-dc-and-the-surging-sea" target="_blank">Projections by Climate Centra</a>l suggest that a large part of the Mall could be underwater during severe storms. In a worst case scenario, collapse of land-based ice in Antarctica and Greenland could raise the seas by 12 feet, making the Mall a permanent lagoon.</p><p>Cleanup of the nuclear and chemical morass at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, which started in the 1990's, should just about be wrapped up in the best case scenario. A <a href="https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2019/feb/02/hanford-cleanup-costs-triple-and-thats-the-best-ca/" target="_blank">2019 estimate</a>, however, left the door open for cleanup well into the 22<sup>nd</sup> Century.</p><p>The plastic we've loaded into our oceans should still be there. And then some. Those oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Should that immense problem <em>ever</em> reverse itself, scientists say it will take a lot more than 50 years.</p><p>One major manmade problem that stands a good chance of resolving is the depletion of stratospheric ozone over the poles. A global treaty has limited use of ozone-destroying chemicals. NASA and other agencies expect the <a href="https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/videos/the-ozone-hole" target="_blank">ozone layer to repair itself</a> over the next century.</p><p>We stand a good chance, I hope, of retaining or even building on the heroic effort to protect wild lands from Yellowstone to the Serengeti. Recently, Marine Protected Areas have offered protection to vast, ecologically valuable ocean areas. Of course, marvels like the Outer Banks or the canals of Venice may not have any protection against rising seas.</p><p>Access to water could replace access to oil as a primary cause of conflict between nations. Wind and solar power stand ready to dominate—unless our "clean energy" is replaced by something cleaner.</p><p>The last of the hundreds of lifetime Federal judgeships appointed by President Trump should be ready to leave the bench.</p><p>Long-held myths may fall by the wayside: From Eastern nations, the absurd notion that powdered rhino horn or shark fin soup are key status symbols; from the West, the cynical manufacture of doubt about science.</p><p>By the 100<sup>th</sup> Earth Day, we can hope that humanity's environmental ethic becomes more central to how we live our lives. </p><p>Think of how we've changed over the last 50 years—in 1970, the U.S. still had legal DDT, leaded gasoline, and a functioning commercial whaling station (in Richmond, California).</p><p>If nothing else is certain, it's safe to say that it'll be interesting. </p><p>I can't wait to be 113 and find out.</p>
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