Thursday, April 22, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
In 1969, two environmental stories garnered wide attention — the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire and California’s coast was tarred by an oil spill off Santa Barbara. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, noted that the federal government lacked the tools to protect the environment, and he wanted to spur a growing public interest in ecology. To do that, he created Earth Day, which he called an effort to “force this issue onto the national agenda.”
It worked. On April 22, 1970, an estimated 20 million people across the country took part in Earth Day activities to show their support. In the years since, the country has made major strides to clean up and protect the air, water and land. The Environmental Protection Agency was established in late 1970, and major pieces of legislation have continued to strengthen the law.
It would be unthinkable today to even consider that a river in the United States would be so polluted that it could catch fire. People can no longer dump pollutants into the environment without fear of being caught and punished.
Today, on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, Americans should be pleased with the steps that have been taken over the years, but they shouldn’t be satisfied. Despite changes and efforts to recycle and conserve resources, the country still consumes and pollutes too much. The United States is still the world’s leader in oil consumption and it is second in coal consumption and carbon dioxide production. Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas that scientists say shares the bulk of the blame for climate change.
Under President Barack Obama, the country has been moving toward doing more to protect the environment, particularly by developing alternative energy sources. The Navy, for example, is trying to create a “great green fleet” using alternative fuel sources and today is scheduled to test a fighter jet it calls the Green Hornet because it uses a biofuel made from flower seeds.
Nevada has an incredible opportunity to make a difference. The state is positioned to develop solar, geothermal and wind energy. These clean sources of energy help the environment and America by lessening dependence on imported oil and energy that pollutes the earth.
The question is whether the political will exists to make renewable energy a priority. Since the beginning of Earth Day, there has been criticism, largely from the far right in the Republican Party, of an alleged “liberal” agenda. But the environment shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Republicans, for instance, can choke on polluted air just as easily as Democrats. Clean water and air affect everyone, no matter what one’s political leanings are. Conserving energy, recycling and using better and renewable fuels makes economic sense as well as helps the environment.
Consider that turning off the lights when you leave a room, notching up the thermostat a few degrees and combining errands to make fewer trips in the car can all curb energy bills and affect production of carbon dioxide.
The nation should be celebrating Earth Day today. This is a time to acknowledge the strides America has made and encourage good stewardship of the resources we have inherited so we make the best use of them. If we do it right, we can leave the world a better place than we found it.