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I was in high school when the first Earth Day was officially declared a holiday, (actually it was more an acknowledgement) and a time to draw attention to the problems our planet was facing. It was 1970. We were still in Viet Nam and recycling was the last thing on our minds. My high school decided to start a recycling center on campus and for extra credit we could volunteer to help after school. I worked there a few times. At the time the idea seemed weird but I liked getting the credit.
The nightly news ran stories telling us we were doing things to the planet that would affect our climate in twenty-five years. Back then it seemed like an awfully long time away to worry about such things.
I remember one summer, riding in the car with my parents to vacation in Los Angeles. We drove over the Grape Vine and the L. A. basin looked brownish grey (like Beijing does today). The air pollution was really bad. It’s so much better these days.
We needed to do something to make our air cleaner and safer to breathe, and it seemed the best place to start was with the millions of cars that drove on our highways each year. The Clean Air Act, designed to control air pollution on a national level, was passed in 1963, but it was taken more seriously in the 1970′s making it mandatory for states to comply. In 1990 it added amendments to address acid rain and ozone depletion.
The first California “Smog Check” program was implemented in March 1984. Most cars manufactured after 1975 have to have a smog inspection every two years in order to get their registration renewed. New cars have four years before they have to comply.
Then the oil embargo hit in the mid 70s. Gas lines extended for blocks. Drivers were given certain days they could buy gas, depending if their license plate number ended in odd or even. Americans were not happy. So more gas efficient cars were introduced. My dad bought a Pinto. A yellow one. (Don’t ask) The oil problem was finally resolved and Americans quickly forgot about it; they wanted to drive bigger cars. Paying for gas was no longer an issue.
We continued recycling our cans and bottles (now plastic), thinking we were doing our fair share helping the planet. We looked to nuclear power to help supply energy. Then Three Mile Island made the news in 1979. And that was the end of that until 2014. Georgia just got the green light to build a nuclear power plant. The first one in over thirty years.
Over the years news reports continued to tell us about global warming (now called climate change). But the effects, we were told wouldn’t be felt for generations to come. So studies were done. More studies were done. Decades went by. Scientists on both sides of the issue weighed in. The climate was changing due to human behavior. Climate change was a natural occurrence. The opinions depended on who had a vested interest on the outcome.
We continued to drive cars and SUVs that averaged fifteen miles to a gallon of gas. The only time Americans seemed to drive less or used public transportation was if gas prices went over 4.00 a gallon.
Car manufacturers looked to new ways to make energy efficient cars. The Toyota Prius, a hybrid gas and electric vehicle was introduced to the American market in 2001. It got over sixty miles to the gallon on the highway. Buyers were allowed to drive in car pool lanes with out having to have a certain amount of passengers. There are now electric cars but they aren’t as popular because they can’t go very far without having to be re-charged. Many large cities now have bicycle lanes to accommodate those who don’t want to drive cars at all. I have spoken with several avid bike riders and they believe all cars are bad for the earth. “Peddle power” is better for the planet and for our exercising our bodies.
We seem to “get it,” when it comes to the connection between automobiles and air quality, but not enough to make a dent in climate change. We still put billions of tons of carbons in to the atmosphere every day through industrial waste. We turned our oceans into our own private dump. The birds and sea life suffer the consequences of all the plastic we throw away.
Now scientists tell us we are in the middle of climate change and even if we changed our behavior today, we will still face extreme weather conditions.
So what does our government and the energy companies do in response? They push for access to fracking sites, and an oil pipeline (Keystone) that will run from Canada, through the United States and end up at the gulf coast (we are told it will give us cheaper gas, but anyone who pays attention knows it will be sold on the world market). We are told we need more coal plants. There is talk about green energy but it seems there isn’t enough interest to invest in them. Solar and wind generators won’t bring in the kind of revenue oil does and the oil companies aren’t about to share the wealth.
The last two years have seen extreme weather conditions in the Midwest and back east. California will enter its third year of drought. All these problems cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
We aren’t the only country making pollution. Since China decided to follow the
U. S. and become industrialized its environment is now a mess. Their air quality is so bad, its citizens wear face masks when they are outside. Are they planning anything to do about it? Who knows. I did hear some talk from a company called, Orproject offering to build a giant bubble like enclosure around Beijing, protecting the botanical gardens from the pollution. Clean air would be pumped inside, keeping the bad air out. (I’m not kidding!)
Here in California, there is talk of building desalination plants due to the water shortage. I wrote about that in an earlier post. You can find the link in the “sources” section at the bottom of this post.
If you ask me, I suggest changing our behavior – like right now! So what, if we are in the middle of climate change and we will have to go through some tough times (climate wise). We helped create this mess. This is not about us. It’s about future generations. Don’t they have a right to enjoy living in a clean environment like we did we were kids? This is not a partisan issue. We are all in this together and we have to learn to get along, at least when it comes to this issue. We have work to do and sacrifices to make. Our kids and our grandkids are depending on us to do the right thing.
Oh, and Happy Earth Day!