After forty-five Earth Days, government action is more necessary than ever

Earth Day was a few days ago, on April 22. This was the 45th celebration of Earth Day, now recognized in some form in 192 countries around the world. By now the numbers of people rallying, marching and gathering must be in the several hundred million.

It would be impossible to calculate the number of speeches, proclamations, banners, placards and slogans that have been issued in its name. While we can’t calculate the pro-earth rhetoric and rallies, we can do the math on the actual condition of the earth and its life-sustaining systems.

Here’s a rundown of how run down our old brown Earth has become:
• In 1970 the world’s population was about 3.7 billion people, today it is about 7.2 billion people.
• In 1970 there were about 170 million cars on the world’s highways, today there are over a billion.
• Since 1970, sea levels have risen about 12 inches along the Gulf Coast of Texas.
• Since 1970 the rate of global temperature increase has approximately doubled.
• Since 1970 we’ve lost about 30 percent of our planet’s biodiversity.
• Since 1970 we’ve cut the world’s wildlife population in half

Since the first Earth Day, we’ve signed hundreds of treaties, compacts, agreements and protocols to protect our ecosystems. We’ve created agencies, bureaus, commissions and think tanks to deal with the environment.

We’ve tried to wrap our minds around an inconvenient truth, learned dirty secrets about “clean coal,” discovered ecoterrorism, and considered the true cost of cheap meat. What we haven’t done since 1970 is make any major and sustaining changes in the ways we protect the earth’s resources and systems.

Vintage photos of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970

We still seem to think that Mother Nature will bail us out, that a lot of science is junk science, that alarmists want to cripple our economies by slowing down our production and consumption cycles. What’s the proper progressive stance on ecology, environment and earth prospection?

I want to offer a modest proposal that we quit being against this development or that pipeline or another offshore rig. Instead, let’s draw up a manifesto of affirmative actions governments can take to save what’s left of our air and water and flora and fauna.

Population control – Energy demand rises as a function of population. If we put the brakes on our spawning, we might be able to damp down the burners. Let’s argue for small family size, no children to one child per family in every nation, for at least a few generations. Let’s enforce it with carrots (small family incentives) and sticks (large family penalties). Let’s reinforce it with publicly-funded media and propaganda campaigns to extoll the virtues of childlessness.

Vehicle control – No household with more than two cars, to start. Aggressive promotion of public transportation. Government controls on the amount, kind and price of vehicles allowed to be sold here. Not just emissions standards, existence standards. Fewer parking lots, not more. Fewer eight-lane freeways, not more. Make it harder, not easier, to own and operate a private vehicle. Make to easier, cheaper and more appealing to ride public transit.

Energy blackouts and moratoriums – During long stretches of the summer we don’t need air conditioning, so let’s shut it down in malls, office buildings and other public places. During long stretches of the winter we don’t need nearly the amount of heat that gets pumped into the same buildings. Nationalize the means of production and limit power output. Take violators off the grid. Provide major tax and investment credits to alternative renewable sources of power, and impose penalties and extra financial hardships on those who invest in traditional dirty power. Gradually regulate, manage and govern our way out of our power addictions.

Make meat less possible – No more FLOTUS campaigns to urge us to eat our vegetables. Impose government controls on the amount, kind and frequency of meat production we will allow. Eliminate subsidies that encourage using 16 times more energy for grain for cattle than the energy in the meat they produce. Encourage farms to convert to grain producers, discourage farms from raising livestock. Do this by penalizing animal husbandry and rewarding agriculture. Apply this same set of policies and practices to fisheries. Give the oceans and their fish stocks more than one or two seasons to recoup. Give them a generation and guide us in the ways of eating other kinds of protein.

Invest Heavily in Biodegradable Materials – Create a new industry to rival plastics. Find new materials for packaging, storage, toys, furniture, etc. Penalize those who are suspected of dumping plastics into the ocean and reward those who reuse and recycle. Heavy penalties for wasteful and indifferent consumption of exhaustible and rapidly-depleted natural resources.

The small incursions into these waters have been timid, tentative and quickly ground under the spiked heels of the fracking blond who waves flags and shoots fireworks at us to get us all dewy about America being “number one in energy.” Air, water, oceans, fish, forests and food are not American. They are global. That’s why we called it Earth Day. Now we ought to see if we can elect politicians who have the moxie to act it out.

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