Smother Earth

Mom could use a little help

Eight years after Rachel Carson published her seminal book “Silent Spring,” focused on the consequences of pesticides, and only one year after industrial pollution in the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire (again), Americans had had enough.

The first Earth Day was held in 1970.  By the end of that year the Environmental Protection Agency had been created, and by the end of 1972, the Clean Water Act had been passed — the Clean Air Act was passed in 1963.

The Cuyahoga River was once one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. It has caught fire a total of 13 times dating back to 1868, including this blaze in 1952 which caused over $1.3 million in damages. Photo: Cleveland State University Library

Sounds like a story headed for a happy ending, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, in spite of significant progress reducing air pollution in the U.S, the American Lung Association gives Philadelphia a grade of F for air quality, one of the factors contributing to a childhood asthma rate twice the national average. The World Health Organization puts the estimate of people who die every year from causes directly attributable to air pollution at 4.6 million. At the same time the Trump administration is working to reduce air quality regulations.

And despite significant improvement in the quality of many waterways, a permanent ban on fracking in the Delaware River basin, which supplies drinking water to 15 million people has not been enacted; local water supplies are contaminated by fire extinguishing chemicals widely used on military bases; and the Trump administration is working to reduce water quality regulations.

Some herbicides and pesticides have been removed from the market, as a result of deadly (and always unanticipated) consequences, but we are told that today’s widely used poisons such as Roundup are safe, even when glyphosate, the primary active ingredient, has been found present in all children’s oat cereals tested, in all waterways where Roundup is used locally, and in many people’s urine.

The world’s population of insects is crashing, including those that pollinate a third or more of our food crops. The title of Rachel Carson’s book referred to the prospect of a spring without bird song. A world without insects, the most important source of protein for birds, will kill them just as surely as DDT.

Billion of tons of plastic pollution are being added to our environment every year, much of it used just briefly and tossed, and millions of those tons end up in the oceans where plastic refuse is expected to outweigh ocean marine life within 30 years.  Plastic producers would like us to believe this can be addressed with better recycling and anti-littering campaigns – and of course it cannot.

In contrast to Earth Day is Earth Overshoot Day — the day of the year when human resource consumption exceeds the ability of natural systems to replenish those resources. In 2018 it was August 1st, in 1970 when the earth still seemed limitless and there were 4 billion fewer people, it was right around the beginning of the year.

No wonder the children of the world are not celebrating Earth Day in 2019, but instead are walking out of their classrooms and occupying political offices. Their futures are in jeopardy and adults show no sign of acting with the sense of urgency required.

Get In Here!

The earth needs your help. There are many excellent environmental organizations in our region working on these issues. Find one that matches your interests and skills, or if you don’t have time, make writing letters to your elected officials part of your regular routine. There are many things we can all do as individuals, but policies around energy, air and water quality are made by people you elect.

There are lots of events and activities in April to celebrate the natural world, ranging from walks and runs to festivals, trash clean ups (including the Philly Spring Cleanup, Sat 4/6), and art displays, with a few craft beers along the way – just search “Earth Day Philadelphia.” A major event to consider is the Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival, April 5th – 7th, offering three days of non-stop award-winning shorts and feature films, all at the Philadelphia Film Center (aka Prince Theater) on Chestnut Street. For more info click here.

 

 

About Karen Melton 6 Articles
Karen Melton volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, 350 Philly and Sierra Club. She’s lived in East Falls for 27 years and since retiring in 2012 has been a full-time environmental advocate.

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