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Tags: earthday | coronavirus

Earth Day Anniversary Reminds Us We Are All In Same Boat

earth day written on a note on a plant
(Maninder Bahl | Dreamstime)

Paul F. deLespinasse By Tuesday, 21 April 2020 09:12 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Earth Day was first celebrated in the United States on April 22, 1970. Fifty years later, we observe its golden anniversary. 

By 1970 Americans were aware of the dangers posed by pollution. A number of localities and states had recently passed environmental legislation. Shortly after the first Earth Day, President Richard Nixon proposed creation of what became the Environmental Protection Agency. Nixon correctly thought that national standards would be better than forcing producers to cope with a complicated maze of conflicting local requirements.

Although pollution had originally been regarded as mainly a local problem in specific places, by 1970 it was becoming apparent that the planet as a whole was threatened. The spectacular pictures of the whole planet from outer space drove home the fact that  earthlings of all nationalities traveled in the same boat and that we lived on "Spaceship Earth." 

Buckminster Fuller had coined the expression in his 1964 book, "An Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth."  These words neatly focused our attention on the fact that our planet is a closed system. Nothing "goes away" to someplace else when we put pollutants into the oceans or atmosphere. There is no "carpet" under which we can sweep the dirt we produce.

The coronavirus pandemic reminds us that the earth also has a single biosphere and that it is impossible to keep health threats from attacking everywhere. 

As a teenager in the 1950s, I had wondered whether our automobiles, using up oxygen while burning gasoline, might use up all the earth's oxygen and leave us nothing to breathe. But I decided that the earth was so big and there was so much oxygen in the atmosphere that there was no danger of this happening. Anyhow, I must have assumed, our scientists, engineers, and political leaders would have warned us if running out of oxygen was a real danger and would have done something to head it off. Perhaps I was a little naive!

It turned out that oxygen really isn't a problem. But carbon dioxide, created by internal combustion engines and many other processes, is all too much of a problem. This is not because it makes it impossible for us to breathe, but because atmospheric carbon dioxide produces a "greenhouse" effect — the more carbon dioxide, the more heat coming in from the sun we retain. This process could increase average world temperatures by several degrees during the current century. 

Global warming would not be unwelcome if it wasn't too much and was distributed in the right places and times of year. A warmer earth might make northern areas in Canada and Russia more hospitable to agriculture. But the warming effect of a runaway greenhouse effect will not be distributed on the basis of our convenience.

Instead, we will see shrinking glaciers, oceans that may rise by several feet, more extreme variations in local rainfall (droughts and floods) and temperature, and more devastating hurricanes.

Rising sea levels alone could produce extremely unpleasant consequences for hundreds of millions of people living in cities that will go under water. This, in turn, will produce major problems for those fortunate enough not to live in these cities, who will be inundated by refugees escaping the drowned cities. Today's refugee problems will seem trivial by comparison. 

As Earth's people, we are all in the same boat. We will share the same fate if we don't get a grip on  current climate trends. Perhaps now is not the time for wars and hatreds to run rampant when we all have a mutual interest in preventing our ship from sinking. 

Like the coronavirus, ominous climate trends are a common enemy that we can fight most effectively when we do it together.   

Fifty years after the first one, Earth Day is more important than ever. 

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. Read Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.

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The coronavirus pandemic reminds us that the earth also has a single biosphere and that it is impossible to keep health threats from attacking everywhere. 
earthday, coronavirus
Tuesday, 21 April 2020 09:12 AM
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