Earth Day, planning for a future

2013-04-20T00:00:00Z Earth Day, planning for a future Santa Maria Times
April 20, 2013 12:00 am

Monday is Earth Day, so we suppose that makes this Earth Weekend.

It always amazes us that we’ve created one Earth Day, when it must be fairly evident that every day of every year should be Earth Day.

But humans like to zero in on and isolate their big events, making them extra special. Maybe it’s so every special event has an “eve,” which means another occasion to celebrate.

Thus, on Monday more than a billion humans will take part in the 43rd edition of Earth Day, and the other 6 billion or so humans would be well-served to think about what Earth Day means in this early part of the 21st century — because if we don’t all start paying closer attention, there may not be much humanity around to welcome the 22nd century. More about that in a moment.

First, a little Earth Day history, and it’s important because the Central Coast plays a starring role.

The idea for an Earth Day originated with Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, after he witnessed first hand the devastation caused by the Platform A oil-rig blowout in Santa Barbara Channel in 1969. The images of pristine coastline from Carpinteria to Goleta coated in crude oil, with sea creatures struggling for their lives, were seen around the planet.

Sen. Nelson and others figured they could channel the mostly youthful anger about the war in Vietnam into a global environmental movement — which is exactly what happened.

That first Earth Day in 1970 created an unusual coalition of Democrats and Republicans, the far left and far right, the wealthy and the poverty stricken, CEOs and union leaders. It also created an atmosphere in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was born, and later the enactment of the laws protecting the air, water and endangered species.

The movement has grown larger every year, from a few hundred thousand in 1970 to more than a billion today. We alluded earlier to reasons why taking part in Earth Day events is important, the primary one being that we apparently are in the midst of a very rapid climate change, and that creates some very unique situations.

For example, people living in low-lying coastal areas are actively making plans to cope with a rising sea level, as the ice melt at Earth’s poles accelerates.

Farmers in America’s Midwestern belt are considering the effects of long-term drought. Growers just about everywhere are having to adjust their strategies, as weather patterns they had come to rely on for generations seem suddenly to disappear, replaced by something entirely different.

Californians must think about the consequences of a reduced winter snowpack at higher elevations, which will materially impact water suppliers in population centers already scrambling to meet demand.

Most everyone will be confronted with weather anomalies, often far more severe and life-threatening than anything we’ve ever experienced.

That’s what change is all about, and because humans are an adaptive species, we will survive and overcome the obstacles — if we do the right kind of planning for the future. We can’t take things for granted. The old paradigms are disappearing.

The legion of climate-change skeptics is slowly shrinking, as are the number of those who scoff at the notions of sustainability and energy generation that doesn’t involve fossil fuels. We are far from the end of the oil age, but we know it’s out there, and we need to make plans.

That’s really what Earth Day is all about — providing a platform for thinking and talking about the planet’s future.

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