Earth Day: A Review

President Barack Obama looks at the Grand Canyon in Arizona

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Earth Day 2012. Founded more than forty years ago by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, Earth Day was originally intended to galvanize the emerging social consciousness of the time and use its energy to highlight environmental concerns. In other words, it was going to save the planet.

An examination of the past few years reveals this to be a promise unfulfilled. Millions of gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven workers DIE. Dolphins, most stillborn, are washing up on the beaches. Birds, fish and other wildlife are suffering and the full environmental and biological damage will not be known for years. The Gulf fishing industry has been pushed to the brink.  

Meanwhile, Transocean, makers of the failed blowout preventer, hails its safety record and rewards its top executives with bonuses. BP and Halliburton, the other two corporate entities involved in the disaster, continue to make billions in profits.

Nature takes a hit and then hits back.

Nuclear disaster occurs as human engineering fails. Radioactive water is dumped into the ocean as holding tanks fill.  Assurances are given that all will be okay. The evacuation zone slowly expands and the crisis continues. The tragedy is framed as a natural disaster that no one could have foreseen.  

Yeah, who would have ever thought anything could go wrong with a nuclear reactor at the conjunction of three fault lines on a tsunami prone coastline. Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric is too big to fail.

We are also told this accident should not be taken as a reflection on the nuclear industry as a whole. This is an interesting story and were it true we could all sleep a little better.

Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth. A quick web search for nuclear accidents will confirm this declaration. The Guardian newspaper estimates that there have been at least 33 serious nuclear accidents since 1952. Accidents ranging from sunken and lost nuclear submarines to industrial exposures can also be found. Subsidies continue to flow to nuclear energy.

But the damage is not just temporary and due to a few big accidents. More than 3000 coal miners died in China alone last year. More will die next year.

Numerous studies have reported declining fertility rates around the world. Birth defects associated with environmental and iatrogenic toxins suggest that we are all becoming canaries in the coal mine. Emerging evidence is beginning to point towards man-made chemicals, products of the modern world.

Phthalates, a class of industrial chemicals primarily associated with plastics, seem to be emerging as primary culprits. If you don’t know what they are it doesn’t matter because they’re already in your blood stream. Don’t worry, be happy. Whistle past the grave yard.

Great islands of plastic goo are collecting in the vortices of the oceans. The largest, located in the Pacific Ocean, is larger than Texas. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that approximately 60,000 acres of wetlands have been lost each year since the mid-1980’s.

The damage caused by the Gulf oil spill is still being calculated. Ten million hectares have been deforested and another 5 million hectares have turned to desert in the past year (   

According to the National Wildlife Federation approximately 25,000 species have also become extinct. Water tables are falling and many rivers no longer reach the ocean.  Claiming to be worried about our health we buy water in plastic bottles that further choke the world’s waterways.

There are ever growing holes in the ozone layer at both the North and South Poles according to climatologists at NASA’s Ozone Watch. The planet continues to warm up and climate change deniers just stick their heads further into the sand.  All the while we give ourselves a pat on the back for our environmental awareness. We recycle those plastic bottles we use for water, don’t we?

Energy efficiency in the United States is abysmal with nearly two-thirds of all energy wasted. If we just upped our efficiency to that of the worst countries in Europe we could cut our need for energy by at least half.  

The Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that we could develop an entire national network of hydrogen fueling stations for around the same amount of money as we provide to oil companies in subsidies during a one year period.  

Investment in solar power is paltry to non-existent. Yet for half the cost of the Iraq War solar panels could have been placed on 100 million residences.

The Climate and Energy Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists concludes that we can meet almost all of our energy demands through increasing the use of renewable energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal, etc.) and improving our efficiency.   

So far the response has been to keep providing subsidies to oil companies and sell out our values in foreign affairs to keep the petroleum pumping.

Somehow, someway, given this sorry state of affairs, we have convinced ourselves that we live at the pinnacle of civilization. The planet is being poisoned and the culprits are making money faster than it can be printed.

A not so happy Earth Day.

(Earth Day was on Sunday, April 22, 2012)

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