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Apr. 21 2010 - 1:27 am | 76 views | 1 recommendation | 3 comments

40 Years of Earth Day and We’re Still Mucking Things Up

As we approach the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on Thursday, there’s not much to feel optimistic about. The earth is getting warmer, we are still a wasteful country, animals are going extinct, bees and butterflies are dying. I spoke with someone at the Natural Resources Defense Council for a story today, and he told me that consumption in the U.S. –in every state other than California—is up about 20 percent. (California’s consumption stayed the same, even though its population grew, so bravo Cali.). We consume too much, we waste too much, we warm things up too much.

40 years ago—April 1970—was the start of the modern environmental movement. The founder of Earth Day was Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin who proposed the first nationwide environmental protest “to shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda.” Those were the days, eh? And 20 million people took to the streets back then, and the parks and auditoriums ,to demonstrate for a healthier, sustainable world.

Yet it’s not all gloom and doom. You can, as always, take steps to green your life (and help green your world). My friend and fellow journalist Elaine Pofeldt just blogged on Atlantic.com about greening your kid’s birthday party by asking guests not to bring gifts (which eliminates not only the gift, but the wrapping paper, tape, etc.).

You can also, according to PlanetGreen.com, go vegan, stop buying jeans (reduces your lifetime carbon footprint by about 900 pounds, believe it or not); and stop buying gas from Exxon-Mobil, which emits 138 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. The EPA’s tips are a bit more run of the mill: use public transportation, buy water-efficient fixtures and products, leave your grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them (they will decompose and return to the soil naturally); and don’t top off your gas tank (even a small spill adds to air pollution and wastes fuel).

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The official Earth Day website is asking everyone to make a personal commitment to sustainability. The site says Earth Day 2010 is “a pivotal opportunity for individuals, corporations and governments to join together and create a global green economy.”  It also says more than one billion people in 190 countries are taking some kind of action this year on Earth Day. That’s great news, but it’s hard to believe it will have any lasting effect if it winds up being a one-day thing. In fact the breadth of the environmental crises we face is hard to fathom, which is why it’s probably best to do  small things in small steps, and make a little bit of a difference, but a difference nonetheless.

And there’s always the option of adopting a “glass half full” perspective. As Pete Grannis, the lawyer who helped organize the first Earth Day in New York City told the Long Island Press this week: “Forty years ago, there was stuff floating in the Hudson River that you wouldn’t want to talk about. Today, it’s swimmable.”


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    I'm a freelance journalist based in San Diego, Calif. I do a lot of business writing but also write about education, family life, social issues and politics. I have an interest in companies doing innovative work in science and technology. Over the years my work has been published in a variety of national publications, including The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, Self, Glamour, Psychology Today, CNNMoney.com, FORTUNE Small Business Magazine, Slate.com, Salon.com and others. I write a monthly column in the Sunday New York Times Business section called "Career Couch."

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