This year’s 50th anniversary of Earth Day was overshadowed by the urgent news about COVID-19, but we shouldn’t let the day slip by unnoticed. It’s worthwhile to look back 50 years to see what has changed (a timeline can be seen at History.com).
Notably, Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring documented the negative environmental effects of widespread pesticide use; and in 1969 chemical pollutants floating on Ohio’s Cuyahoga River caught fire. Concern about these and several other issues led to the first Earth Day, April 22nd, 1970, which struck a chord so moving that it’s been observed every year since, eventually worldwide.
The 1970s became the “decade of the environment.” The Environmental Protection Agency was formed during the Nixon presidency; ethanol replaced lead as the octane-booster in gasoline; the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act have greatly improved the purity of the air we breathe and the water we drink.
We all need to work hard to preserve these and other environmental gains of the last 50 years. Beyond that, action is needed on lingering issues such as the lead that is found in some municipal water supplies and the remaining air pollution which aggravates asthma.
One chemical, carbon dioxide, escaped notice in the 1970s since it doesn’t directly affect human health. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is essential as food for plants but it also functions as the world’s thermostat – too little leads to ice ages, too much leads to warming.
At present the levels are high and rising, resulting in gradual global warming which leads to sea level rise and more frequent severe storms, among other bad effects. It’s within the power of humanity to slow or stop this developing crisis. We earnestly hope that the 2020s will become known as the “decade of the climate.”
Earl Knutson, Willmar, and Kay Slama, Spicer
Members of Willmar Area Climate Action Group