Chasing Down The Muse: 41 years later we're still in trouble

April 19, 2011|By Catharine Cooper

"There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew."

—Marshall McLuhan

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

—Margaret Mead

April 22 marks the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, founded by Sen. Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin. Nelson was appalled at the damages caused by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Photographs of oil covered gulls and pelicans dying at sea and on tar covered beaches spurred him to action. He thought that he could harness the energies of the fledgling public consciousness by establishing a national day of environmental teach-ins.


One of the greatest attributes about that first celebration was the way in which everyone came together for a cleaner, healthier planet. Republicans and Democrats stood side by side without a political agenda. The attention, partly aroused by the earlier publishing of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," was about what we might do together to make things better.

We were driving cars with gas-guzzling V8 engines and most industries were not held accountable for any environmental degradation caused by their actions. Air pollution was common, and there were days when it was impossible to see anything — mountains, seas or skyscrapers — in the Los Angles basin.

That first Earth Day bore the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts. In the 41 years since, the agency and the acts have come increasingly under fire by special interest groups who are not devoted to the betterment of the planet, but of their own financial agendas.

We still drive gas-guzzling cars and still have oil spills. On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew apart, killing 11 workers and releasing more than 205 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It has the dubious distinction of being the worst oil spill in history. Everyone watched helplessly as dolphins and turtles were trapped in seas of burning oil, as noxious poisons washed up on Florida's beaches as BP desperately tried dispersants, solvents — anything to ameliorate the affect of the oil's suffocating march toward shore.

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