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Earth Day, 50 Years On

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day in the USA. I’ve been reflecting on the significance of the day and what impact its activities hold.

In 1970, people were remarking at the changing pace and patterns of life fueled by petroleum. Wendell Berry calls attention to a piece published in the February 1970 issue of National Geographic. Berry elucidates how the piece, “The Revolution in American Agriculture”, would have us see as marvels the myriad tools of modern agriculture and its petroleum dependencies while breezing past the social, economic, and political realities that changing agribusiness brought to bear. Berry and others couldn’t ignore how all the pieces were fitting together to damage our planet and its future.

The 1970 Earth Day event was partially spurred by reactions to the 1969 Union Oil Santa Barbara oil spill. The momentum of the event grew as decades went on, but so did the global damage being done in the name of oil dependency. The even larger Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred on March 24, 1989. I was only three years old, but I recall seeing video montages of the aftermath as I grew up.

For me, images of oil-slicked animals and burning rain forests on television paired with trips to a local zoo that primed my awareness of environmental issues and how my personal behavior plays a role. That has to be one of the results of Earth Day and other similar movements that grew more notable during the last half of the 1900’s. Many more things are out in the open.

Yet no matter whether we look at the initial setting of this event or 50 years later, it seems that the movement towards the health of the earth is an uphill battle. I quote Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America out of context, but his assertion fits here:

“Our ‘success’ is a catastrophic demonstration of our failure. The industrial Paradise is a fantasy in the minds of the privileged and the powerful; the reality is a shambles.”

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