Earth Day!

The Road to Resilience

The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970.  It came about largely as a result of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which made us all realize that we were poisoning our land, air, and water as well as all the living things in it.  It was suggested by Wisconsin liberal Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson and was coordinated by Washingtonian-in-all-but-birth, Denis Hayes.  A year later, we had our first clean air and clean water legislation and the passage of the Endangered Species Act.

I remember the 70’s as a time when the idea of returning to nature was a very exciting and engaging prospect.  The concept of ecology first came out of the murky backrooms of the biology departments and became a household word and a new yardstick for judging just about anything.  The philosophical foundation for the modern environmental movement was laid then and those of us that were all in were really idealistic and had great hopes for the immediate future.

Unfortunately, we were a bit myopic in judging the size and importance of our movement.  By the Reagan years in the 80’s, some thought environmentalists were a subversive subgroup that was intent on destroying American industry as we knew it.  The broad majority of Americans were only peripherally aware and saw it as a minor issue.  I remember learning in 1988 from Steve Hodge, a glaciologist and friend of mine, that the scientific community had finally decided that human-based carbon pollution was actually causing climate change.  If we had begun to counteract it then, we might have headed it off without drastic action.  As is our nature, we procrastinated until the forests were all burning and the waters were flooding our coastlines.  Even with that, our response has been pretty tepid.

Now we have an administration that is doing everything, I mean everything, it can to erase what little we have put in place to counter climate change and the poisoning of our planet.  We can see this as more than just counterproductive:  it is spiteful.  Although this is certainly not a good thing, I perceive a silver lining.  It has certainly got our dander up.  People that gave environmental concerns very little thought are now aghast at what is happening.  There now seems to be real resolution:  if our leaders insist on being spoiled children and fools, then we will just have to do it ourselves.  States and cities are taking up the slack.  California has led with aggressive legislation, and they are, after all, the sixth largest economy in the world.  The things we can do without the Federal Government are not insignificant.

The second Earth Day of any size was twenty years later, in 1990.  This time there was climate change to consider, and it had international participation.  The next two came at ten-year intervals, and, since, it has been an annual affair.  It is now the most recognized public holiday in the world.

Over this time, we have been slowly growing up as a species and grudgingly beginning to accept that we must be responsible for cleaning up our messes.  Now that there are no longer any whom we can even generously consider adults in charge, the “we” that must act is us.  This is good.   The “We the People” that our founding fathers had in mind was wealthy white men, but the real promise of those words is that “We the People” means literally all of us.

We are also beginning to understand that we are not the only ones that matter.  New Zealand has granted rights of personhood to the Whanganui River.  So has India to the Ganges River.  Ecuador’s constitution enshrines “nature’s right to integral respect.”  If the things we are trying to protect have no rights, how can they prevail in court?

This brings us to the Vashon Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 21, at the High School.  It will go from noon to 4 pm and will feature booths run by businesses and island organizations, movies and lectures, and volunteer opportunities during the preceding week.  Details can be found at   You can pick up an Earth Fair passport and get it stamped at each activity.  Each stamp earns you a raffle ticket for a host of prizes.  If you want to participate in the activities during the prior week, you can get a passport at the Vashon Maury Island Land Trust.

While you are touring the booths, be sure to stop at the Puget Sound Energy booth and ask them why they intend to invest in natural gas for energy production when carbon-free wind, solar, and batteries are competitively priced now and will certainly be much cheaper in the near future.  Tell them that, for you, their investment in renewables is just as important, if not more, than encouraging more efficient appliances in our homes.  And be nice; the people at the booth did not set the policies.  Stating your preferences as a customer should certainly get you a stamp in your passport.