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The 50th Earth Day—Bookended by Fear and Hope

image of earth from space wit the sun rising over the horizon

After the global pandemic, will “saving the planet” still matter?

In our hearts, we know the right answer: It will. Especially for future generations.

The 50th Earth Day—April 22, 2020—helps put this into context.

Not So Rich as You Think book coverFollowing the first Earth Day in 1970, I took my Indiana high school’s first environmental science class. I still have a paperback book (95 cents) from that class, “Not So Rich as You Think,” by George Stewart.

Politics was tearing the country apart in 1970. Doom and gloom were in the air, especially among adults. But idealism was rampant, too.

The situation 50 years later—at least until the pandemic hit—has seemed similar. But since global climate change began rearing its ugly head, the stakes have seemed much higher.

In the early 70s, we made advances against air and water pollution, the two main enviro foes back then.

In recent months, we have seemed poised to start making real advancements in the fight against climate change. Youth have spoken up, led in spirit by Sweden’s Greta Thunberg. Creative political and governmental approaches have gained traction. Corporations have begun to step up.

Now—due to uncertainty and fear resulting from the devastating impacts of the coronavirus outbreak—it seems that the momentum to address climate change could be lost.

But not necessarily.

In the 1960s, Barbra Streisand sang, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” Perhaps this virus, once we recover, will show us we really do need each other, not just money or power. Needing people, on a large scale, means we also love and help and support people.

Once we move closer to that ideal, the environmental healing can begin in earnest.

That book from 50 years ago that I mentioned, Not So Rich as You Think, was a muckraking overview of pollution and waste. Although it’s largely been forgotten, you can still find mentions of it online, sometimes describing it as “prescient.”

This year, I bought another book looking at the big eco picture: “Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have,” by Tatiana Schlossberg. This one is a hardcover ($28 but also available through The Seattle Public Library and the King County Library System) that came out last August.

It pulls back the curtain on unseen eco-impacts in four areas—the internet and technology; food; fashion; and fuel. I found it super-enlightening.

But the real blueprint for a greener future comes in the last four pages. These are some of Schlossberg’s conclusions, lessons we should all take to heart:

  • “If you want to fight inequality, you have to fight climate change, too … . The countries and communities that have contributed least to climate change and pollution will be the most affected. That is an injustice.”
  • “Our actions and the problems they create are connected, all around the world … . Living in a way that honors your values is important, even if your personal habits aren’t going to fix everything.”
  • “If we know what our sacrifices mean and why they might matter, we might be more willing to make them … . It is always better to know more and make more informed decisions, but it should not be up to the consumer to figure out what is the most responsible or sustainable option.” Rather, “the ones who are making money from our choices … should be more transparent.”
  • “You have to stay engaged and involved. Ask questions. Demand change.”

And I would like to echo, from a local perspective, these last four words in Schlossberg’s book: “Thank you for helping.”

Thanks for helping in every way—supporting each other, individually and globally, through all our crises.

Here’s hoping for a brighter new future by the next big Earth Day anniversary—the 100th Earth Day in 2070!


Tom WatsonContributor Tom Watson manages the King County EcoConsumer public outreach program (KCecoconsumer.org), including the County’s free community repair events program. You can reach him at tom.watson@kingcounty.gov or 206-477-4481.

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