Today is Earth Day. You didn’t forget did you? Unfortunately, as Husna Haq writes in the Christian Science Monitor, it may be Earth Day itself that needs saving, not the Earth. Haq cites polls showing that back on the inaugural Earth Day in 1971, 63 percent of Americans saw restoring the natural environment as “very important.” This year, according to a huffpost/YouGov poll, only 39 percent think restoring the environment is important. Why could this be?
First, it is a very different world now than it was in 1971. It could be much to the current GOP’s chagrin that the most effective and far-reaching environmental laws in the United States were enacted and endorsed under a Republican administration. Back then cities were chocked with smoke and rivers burned. In a sense, the rampant pollution of our air and water was more local, more “real” in people’s lives. There was no question that rivers should not catch on fire or that the skies should not darken with smog.
What has become polluted today is the public discourse over issues of environmental stewardship. Climate change is a prime example of this. An active, well-funded campaign to confuse the public and implicate scientists as conspirators has clouded the average citizen’s ability to make sense of it all. All this in the face of economic turmoil, threats of terrorism, and a general culture of fear and alarmism. Not the fear and alarmism climate “skeptics” accuse climate scientists of employing, but the fear and alarmism of conspiracies, black helicopters and the “other” coming for what you’ve got. In the face of all this people just tune out.
But I think we all sense deep down that business as usual is not sustainable. We may push our conscious concern for environmental issues out of our minds as we navigate complicated and difficult times, but ultimately all economics, all society, all human endeavor is rooted in the natural world.
So even if “saving the planet” isn’t on the top of people’s to-do lists, Earth Day should remind us that consideration for a healthy planet is not about saving the Earth, but saving ourselves. If we can do that, the planet will take care of herself.
Image credit: morganj, courtesy flickr