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The Re-Awakening


It may be disastrous, temporarily, but thank goodness it’s finally raining and snowing in the far West. At least some of the shrunken reservoirs and snowpacks are being replenished. But in places like Arizona, the recent rains are not nearly enough to end a twenty-year drought. In Rio Verde, a desert suburb of Phoenix, the water shortage has become painful, with residents forced to get drinking water shipped in by truck. Lake Mead, which supplies about 35% of Arizona’s water, is practically empty. The lessons from the mega-drought, as well as the seemingly endless barrage of nationwide floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and fires, should be clear. Weathering these challenges is going to require some serious re-thinking about our relationships with the planet, and each other.

On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, over twenty million Americans took to the streets to protest the way we were treating the planet. Millions of cars and thousands of factories were spewing noxious vapors into the atmosphere; billions of gallons of poorly treated sewage and industrial wastes poured into rivers and lakes; and millions of pounds of toxic chemicals were being buried in landfills or “disposed of” in lagoons and unlined pits. In 1970, there was a huge public backlash against these travesties— an environmental awakening, leading to a whole slew of new programs and laws to curb pollution and massive federal dollars to support them. Within a few decades, we had largely met the pollution challenge and were well on the way to a cleaner environment.

We seem to have relaxed over the last few decades, becoming smug and complacent in the thought that the worst is behind us. But the last few years have issued a wakeup call. The threat of rising sea levels and worsening natural disasters from our inability to curb greenhouse gases; the rise of corporate agriculture, presenting threats to water and air quality; the loss of pollinators, threatening our food supply; the rapid disappearance of birds and insects, so critical to healthy ecosystems; these and other new challenges are as big as, if not bigger, than those facing us in 1970. There are two options before us—either throw up our hands, admit defeat, and try to ignore the problems; or, meet them head on, like we did in the 1970s. It’s not too late, just like it wasn’t too late in 1970. We can accelerate efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions and create millions of new jobs through green energy programs.

We can explore methods of improving soil and watershed health through regenerative agriculture, rather than relying on the dead-end of industrial farming. We can work to protect and restore biodiversity, rather than further impoverishing our bruised ecosystems. Earth Day 2023 is a good time to re-commit; to take to the streets, as twenty million did in 1970—putting the imperiled state of the environment.

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