Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy 40th Earth Day, I guess

I am all for the earth, and for what it is worth - and the planet IS amazing. In fact, I spent six hours reflecting on the beauty of our little corner of the earth as I drove through the Palliser Region yesterday. In plus 20 temperatures with a springy wind, I marvelled anew at the pussy willow sage green and gold rolling hills; the massive just-plowed endless fields ready for planting; the man-made irrigation systems, aqueduct and canals; the treelines, the scrub, the tumbleweeds; the marsh and ponds on which multicolored ducks and geese landed; the beautiful light cast by a rising sun, and then by a tie-died peach, orange and red setting one as I coasted home.

When my children asked, "Why do we celebrate Earth Day at School, Mom?", I resisted my skeptical response about rabid, eco-politico-socio-engineers and the profiteering green pirates....  (take a breath and read here for some Earth Day Predictions 1970 style) and the unethical scientists who fake data to skew political agendas.... (I love Rex Murphy's take on ClimateGate) and how "authentic living" is a new form of exclusionary language that denotes a new form of social status and economic privilege and snobbery (BTW, I am looking forward to reading Andrew Potter's new book).

Instead, .... cue robins singing and early tulips poking through the soil and spreading compost on my raspberry bed... , Ahh, yes. Eaaaarth Daaaay.  Well, kids....  At breakfast, I talked about our shared responsibility to care for the earth, the unlimited beauty of the planet, doing our part to recycle and reuse rather than throwing things into the landfill, why we have a yuck-bucket under the sink and compost green and brown waste, and limiting consumerist practices, etc and so on. They seemed satisfied; after all, this is all part of their normal experience. Good.

As to the role of schools in providing environmental education programming, the science-technology-society connections are very promising, if taught through inquiry, steeped in disciplinary knowledge and connections, and using a participatory and democratic approach.  I know that my children, along with many other Alberta children, and campus students and faculty, will participate in some fun and well intentioned games and activities today at school and learn a few new ways to be more responsible citizens of the planet. Good to great.

For the older kids, I suggest a little bit of reading and reflection today, accompanied by a great deal of time out in the fresh fresh air and undiluted sunshine. Here is a good article, "Earth Day Turns 40" by Ronald Bailey. Key idea: the US environment has fared well since the first Earth Day four decades ago - pollution levels have dropped while populations have increased since 1970. Since 1980, ambient concentrations of major regulated air pollutants have dropped by 54 percent, while U.S. population grew 34 percent, energy use increased 32 percent, automobile miles nearly doubled, and GDP rose by 126 percent. Looking good.

Here is another good article, "Earth Day Then and Now" that Ronald Bailey wrote 10 Years Ago when Earth Day was 30.  Key Lesson?  The prophets of doom were not simply wrong, but spectacularly wrong. We are not all baaaaaad as the eco-handwringer-mea-culpas would have us believe. We are actually doing great. 

Enjoy reading and thinking and going outside on Earth Day.
Comments are spectacularly welcome.

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