We may be tempted to lament our recent plight yet again when we realize that the momentous anniversary celebration of Earth Day will be impossible in 2020. This would have been the 50th celebration of the planet, most of the first 49 marked by all kinds of outdoor events, festivals,and gatherings of people.
Fiftieth anniversaries of all sorts are noteworthy events.Anything that continues for fifty years has persisted for a reason, and such is the case with Earth Day. It has become a time to celebrate a truly miraculous place that is clearly a rarity in nature. Unfortunately, like many other newsworthy events of the last month, this hallowed anniversary will be lost in the whirlwind of the Coronavirus. The two events may seem at first unrelated – a nightmarish pandemic and the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day – but they may be ironically connected.
It is on one hand a shame that the anniversary will not receive the recognition it deserves. For it was not just the celebration of Earth Day that was noteworthy, but a host of other environmental initiatives and laws also came to pass during 1970 and shortly thereafter.
The dark environmental days of the fifties and sixties gave rise to host of environmental laws and agencies established over the first two and half years of the seventies – the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act, the Clean Water Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide,and Rodenticide Act and the Endangered Species Act.
The Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration were all formed during that same era. While shortsighted critics call them crazed bureaucracies, they have profoundly changed the face of the environment and worker safety.
The pandemic has given us pause to contemplate a number issues we have taken for granted – family and friends, sports and exercise, the adventure of visiting new places, traveling to places we've come to appreciate,or enjoying the food we love whenever the fancy strikes us.
It's also given us a taste of what other environmental maladies might bring. What would we do if a toxic or radioactive accident or terrorist attack kept us restricted to our homes or made a place uninhabitable?How would we deal with a hazardous chemical contaminating our drinking water?
How would we feed ourselves if any part of our food distribution system became seriously dysfunctional? What would we do if war knocked on our door or forced refuges into our part of the world? How would we deal with an overwhelmed health care system every day of the year?
Thankfully, these disasters are uncommon in America. But such tragedies are commonplace in other parts of the world. No one will ever call COVID-19 a blessing. Perhaps, though, it will provide us with an opportunity to reexamine what is important and pay a bit closer attention to each other and the amazing planet on which we live. April 22, 2020 might be a good day to do just that.
John Frederick (www.johnjfrederick.com) writes about environmental issues every other week. Readers looking for some Earth Day entertainment are encouraged to do an internet search for the 1990 Earth Day Special and its humorous look at the 20th anniversary.
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