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Gains made since first Earth Day


To the Editor: The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970. This April we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary. Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson conceived of the idea of a national grassroots protest for better environmental protection. Over 20 million citizens participated. Nelson’s goal was to force the issue of environmental protection “permanently onto the national agenda.”

Among Nelson’s inspirations were two great environmental thinkers and fellow Wisconsinites John Muir and Aldo Leopold.

Among John Muir’s accomplishments was persuading President Theodore Roosevelt to set aside 148 million acres of forest preserves. In 1892, he founded the Sierra Club.

Aldo Leopold founded the school of game management at the University of Wisconsin. His 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac,” is a classic. He developed the concept of the land ethic. In 1935, he was part of a group that founded the Wilderness Society.

The events in the 1960’s highlighted environmental degradation by industry. They were Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring proving the link between DDT and the destruction of eagles; the Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching fire; and a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif.

The message of the first Earth Day was articulated by Gaylord Nelson this way. “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around,” he said.

The 1970’s saw bipartisan support for environmental legislation on the state and federal level. The Environmental Protection Agency began in 1970. This was followed by the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. DDT was banned in Wisconsin in 1970 and nationally in 1972. These actions were followed by many bipartisan laws protecting Americans’ health and America’s land and water.

In 1976, the U.S. population was 203 million people, the world population was 3.86 billion and 200 million vehicles were on the road. In 2020, the U.S. population is 330 million, the world population is 7.8 billion and there are 1.5 billion vehicles on the road. The world population has doubled and the number of vehicles is over seven times higher. The U.S. population is 62.6 percent higher. This is significant because Americans are leaders in per capita consumption of stuff. We continue to urge the rest of the world to adopt our wasteful lifestyle.

We live on a finite planet with finite resources and a finite capacity to absorb the effects of human activity. We need to learn the concept of sustainability.

We have made many gains since the first Earth Day using science as our guide. We still face many issues with the most dangerous being climate change. The overwhelming scientific evidence is dismissed by Trump with “I don’t believe it” without any scientifi c evidence to support his position. He and his followers are motivated by greed fueled by ignorance and show a total disregard for the health of the planet and its inhabitants.

When the politics of humans comes in conflicts with the laws of physics, the laws of physics are undefeated.

Gary Fergot Town of Wien